The functional effects of ceramide on the monocyte CD36 scavenger receptor and NADPH oxidase

  • Yingjun Luan

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Atherosclerosis is the principal cause of death in the United States, Europe and much of Asia. During the last decade, inflammation has been suggested to play a key role in the development of atherosclerosis. Reactive oxygen species (ROS) released during inflammation additionally oxidize LDL, which is subsequently taken up in an unregulated way through scavenger receptors on macrophages to form foam cells, the hallmark of atherosclerotic lesions.
Previous work has shown that the lipid ceramide, which is found in aggregated LDL and in atherosclerotic plaques, decreases intracellular peroxide most likely through reducing NADPH oxidase activity. Ceramide is an important component of membrane microdomains called lipid rafts which are important for membrane protein function. Endogenous ceramide enhances lipid raft f'ormation and alters theirs composition. NADPH oxidase membrane subunits cytochrome b558 (which includes gp91) strongly associates with lipid rafts Therefore present study investigated whether short chain ceramides reduce NADPH oxidase in U937 monocytes by disrurting the membrane component of NADPH oxidase. Results showed that C2 ceramide alters the distribution of raft marker, flottillin and the raft environment. NADPH oxidase membrane component gp9J phox and cytosolic component p47 phox were identified in rafts. C2 ceramide reduces both gp91 and p47 phox in rafts, which leads to the decrease of peroxide production by NADPH oxidase.
Ceramide is also an important second messenger involved in many different signaling pathways associated with atherogenesis from the activation of sphingomyelinase (SMase). It has been reported that SMase enhances LDL receptor mediated LDL endocytosis. However, no study has been done to investigate the effect of ceramide on scavenger receptors such as CD36 and oxidized LDL (OxLDL) uptake. CD36 is the major recertor far OxLDL. Reduced CD36 expression results in less foam cell formation and less atherosclerotic lesion without disrupting the clearance of OxLDL from plasma.
This thesis shows that ceramides significantly reduce CD36 surface expression on U937 monocytes, macrophages and human primary monocytes. This effect is seen using both synthetic short chain ceramide and SMase catalysed long chain ceramide treatment. To investigate whether the effect of ceramide on CD36 is functional, OxLOL uptake was measured in ceramide treated cells. Ceramide reduces the uptake of OxLOL by both U937 monocytes and PMA-differentiated macrophages. The mechanism of ceramide reduction of CD36 expression was studied by measuring the surface antigen using flow cytometry and fluorescence microscopy, whole cellular CD36 expression and shedding of C036 by Western blotting of cell lysates and cell culture supernatants and mRNA level
of CD36 using RT-PCR. Ceramide reduces shedding of CD36, activates mRNA expression of CD36 and induces intracellular CD36 accumulation probably through retaining the receptor inside cells.
In summary, ceramides modulate several of the processes involved in LOL oxidation and uptake by CD36 receptors on monocytes/macrophages in a way which may protect against atherosclerosis.

Date of AwardNov 2005
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorHelen R Griffiths (Supervisor)


  • U937 cells
  • monocytes
  • macrophages
  • ceramide
  • CD36
  • CD11b
  • oxidized LDL
  • lipid rafts
  • reactive oxygen species
  • NADPH oxidase
  • atherosclerosis

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