Sphingomyelinase and ceramide stimulate the expression of inducible nitric-oxide synthase in rat primary astrocytes

J Biol Chem. 1998 Jan 30;273(5):2591-600. doi: 10.1074/jbc.273.5.2591.


The sphingomyelin signal transduction pathway is known to play a role in mediating the action of various cytokines. Here we examined the possible role of the sphingomyelin signaling pathway on lipopolysaccharide (LPS)- and cytokine-mediated production of NO and the expression of inducible nitric-oxide synthase (iNOS). Sphingomyelinase (SMase) treatment of astrocytes increased the cellular levels of ceramide without the induction of NO production. However, incubation of LPS or cytokine-stimulated astrocytes with SMase or by increasing intracellular ceramide by cell-permeable ceramide analogs (C2- or C6-ceramide) or inhibitor of ceramidase (N-oleoyl ethanolamine) led to a time- and dose-dependent increase in the production of NO. This increase in NO production was accompanied by an increase in iNOS activity, iNOS protein, and iNOS mRNA. Similar to astrocytes, SMase or ceramide analogs also stimulated the LPS- and cytokine-mediated expression of iNOS in the C6 glial cell line. Since activation of NF-kappaB is necessary for the induction of iNOS, we examined the effect of SMase and C2-ceramide on the activation of NF-kappaB. Although SMase or C2-ceramide alone was ineffective in activating NF-kappaB, both stimulated the LPS-mediated activation of NF-kappaB in LPS-activated astrocytes. Inhibition of ceramide and LPS-mediated induction of iNOS by antioxidant inhibitors of NF-kappaB (N-acetylcysteine and pyrrolidine dithiocarbamate) suggest that the stimulatory effect of ceramide on the induction of iNOS is due to the stimulation of NF-kappaB activation and that cellular redox plays a role in the activation of NF-kappaB and induction of iNOS. Inhibition of LPS-mediated as well as LPS and ceramide-mediated induction of iNOS and activation of NF-kappaB by PD98059, a specific inhibitor of activation of mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase kinase (MEK), and FPT inhibitor II, a selective inhibitor of Ras farnesyl protein transferase, indicate that the Ras-MAP kinase pathway is involved in LPS-ceramide induced activation of NF-kappaB and induction of iNOS, and that ceramide-mediated signaling events probably converge into the LPS-modulated MAP kinase signaling pathway resulting in greater activation of NF-kappaB and iNOS induction. This study illustrates a novel role of the sphingomyelin-ceramide signaling pathway in stimulating the expression of iNOS via LPS- or cytokine-mediated activation of NF-kappaB in astrocytes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcysteine / pharmacology
  • Alkyl and Aryl Transferases / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Animals
  • Arginine / metabolism
  • Astrocytes / enzymology*
  • Brain / cytology
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Ceramides / pharmacology*
  • Cytokines / pharmacology
  • Drug Interactions
  • Enzyme Induction
  • Flavonoids / pharmacology
  • Lipopolysaccharides / pharmacology
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase Kinases
  • NF-kappa B / metabolism
  • Neuroglia / drug effects
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase / biosynthesis*
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type II
  • Nitrites / metabolism
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors
  • Pyrrolidines / pharmacology
  • Rats
  • Signal Transduction
  • Sphingomyelin Phosphodiesterase / pharmacology*
  • Thiocarbamates / pharmacology


  • Ceramides
  • Cytokines
  • Flavonoids
  • Lipopolysaccharides
  • NF-kappa B
  • Nitrites
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors
  • Pyrrolidines
  • Thiocarbamates
  • pyrrolidine dithiocarbamic acid
  • Arginine
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type II
  • Nos2 protein, rat
  • Alkyl and Aryl Transferases
  • p21(ras) farnesyl-protein transferase
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase Kinases
  • Sphingomyelin Phosphodiesterase
  • 2-(2-amino-3-methoxyphenyl)-4H-1-benzopyran-4-one
  • Acetylcysteine