Loss of intestinal barrier functions is a hallmark of inflammatory bowel disease like ulcerative colitis. The molecular mechanisms are not well understood, but likely involve dysregulation of membrane composition, fluidity, and permeability, which are all essentially regulated by sphingolipids, including ceramides of different chain length and saturation. Here, we used a loss-of-function model (CerS2+/+ and CerS2-/- mice) to investigate the impact of ceramide synthase 2, a key enzyme in the generation of very long-chain ceramides, in the dextran sodium salt (DSS) evoked model of UC. CerS2-/- mice developed more severe disease than CerS2+/+ mice in acute DSS and chronic AOM/DSS colitis. Deletion of CerS2 strongly reduced very long-chain ceramides (Cer24:0, 24:1) but concomitantly increased long-chain ceramides and sphinganine in plasma and colon tissue. In naive CerS2-/- mice, the expression of tight junction proteins including ZO-1 was almost completely lost in the colon epithelium, leading to increased membrane permeability. This could also be observed in vitro in CerS2 depleted Caco-2 cells. The increase in membrane permeability in CerS2-/- mice did not manifest with apparent clinical symptoms in naive mice, but with slight inflammatory signs such as an increase in monocytes and IL-10. AOM/DSS and DSS treatment alone led to a further deterioration of membrane integrity and to severe clinical symptoms of the disease. This was associated with stronger upregulation of cytokines in CerS2-/- mice and increased infiltration of the colon wall by immune cells, particularly monocytes, CD4+ and Th17+ T-cells, and an increase in tumor burden. In conclusion, CerS2 is crucial for the maintenance of colon barrier function and epithelial integrity. CerS2 knockdown, and associated changes in several sphingolipids such as a drop in very long-chain ceramides/(dh)-ceramides, an increase in long-chain ceramides/(dh)-ceramides, and sphinganine in the colon, may weaken endogenous defense against the endogenous microbiome.
Keywords: Colon; Cytokines; FITC dextran; Occludin; Sphingosine.