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01.12.2018 | Research article | Ausgabe 1/2018 Open Access

BMC Cancer 1/2018

γ-Tocotrienol induces apoptosis in pancreatic cancer cells by upregulation of ceramide synthesis and modulation of sphingolipid transport

BMC Cancer > Ausgabe 1/2018
Victoria E. Palau, Kanishka Chakraborty, Daniel Wann, Janet Lightner, Keely Hilton, Marianne Brannon, William Stone, Koyamangalath Krishnan



Ceramide synthesis and metabolism is a promising target in cancer drug development. γ-tocotrienol (GT3), a member of the vitamin E family, orchestrates multiple effects that ensure the induction of apoptosis in both, wild-type and RAS-mutated pancreatic cancer cells. Here, we investigated whether these effects involve changes in ceramide synthesis and transport.


The effects of GT3 on the synthesis of ceramide via the de novo pathway, and the hydrolysis of sphingomyelin were analyzed by the expression levels of the enzymes serine palmitoyl transferase, ceramide synthase-6, and dihydroceramide desaturase, and acid sphingomyelinase in wild-type RAS BxPC3, and RAS-mutated MIA PaCa-2 and Panc 1 pancreatic cancer cells. Quantitative changes in ceramides, dihydroceramides, and sphingomyelin at the cell membrane were detected by LCMS. Modulation of ceramide transport by GT3 was studied by immunochemistry of CERT and ARV-1, and the subsequent effects at the cell membrane was analyzed via immunofluorescence of ceramide, caveolin, and DR5.


GT3 favors the upregulation of ceramide by stimulating synthesis at the ER and the plasma membrane. Additionally, the conversion of newly synthesized ceramide to sphingomyelin and glucosylceramide at the Golgi is prevented by the inhibition of CERT. Modulation ARV1 and previously observed inhibition of the HMG-CoA pathway, contribute to changes in membrane structure and signaling functions, allows the clustering of DR5, effectively initiating apoptosis.


Our results suggest that GT3 targets ceramide synthesis and transport, and that the upregulation of ceramide and modulation of transporters CERT and ARV1 are important contributors to the apoptotic properties demonstrated by GT3 in pancreatic cancer cells.
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