DNA damage induces down-regulation of UDP-glucose ceramide glucosyltransferase, increases ceramide levels and triggers apoptosis in p53-deficient cancer cells

Teka Ann S Haynes, Valery Filippov, Maria Filippova, Jun Yang, Kangling Zhang, Penelope J. Duerksen-Hughes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

13 Scopus citations


DNA damaging agents typically induce an apoptotic cascade in which p53 plays a central role. However, absence of a p53-mediated response does not necessarily abrogate programmed cell death, due to the existence of p53-independent apoptotic pathways, such as those mediated by the pro-apoptotic molecule ceramide. We compared ceramide levels before and after DNA damage in human osteosarcoma (U2OS) and colon cancer (HCT116) cells that were either expressing or deficient in p53. When treated with mitomycin C, p53-deficient cells, but not p53-expressing cells, showed a marked increase in ceramide levels. Microarray analysis of genes involved in ceramide metabolism identified acid ceramidase (ASAH1, up-regulated), ceramide glucosyltransferase (UGCG, down-regulated), and galactosylceramidase (GALC, up-regulated) as the three genes most affected. Experiments employing pharmacological and siRNA agents revealed that inhibition of UGCG is sufficient to increase ceramide levels and induce cell death. When inhibition of UGCG and treatment with mitomycin C were combined, p53-deficient, but not p53-expressing cells, showed a significant increase in cell death, suggesting that the regulation of sphingolipid metabolism could be used to sensitize cells to chemotherapeutic drugs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)943-953
Number of pages11
JournalBiochimica et Biophysica Acta - Molecular and Cell Biology of Lipids
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2012
Externally publishedYes



  • Apoptosis
  • Ceramide
  • Ceramide glucosyltransferase
  • HPV16 E6
  • p53

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cell Biology
  • Molecular Biology

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