The propensity of LDLs (low-density lipoproteins) for aggregation and/or oxidation has been linked to their sphingolipid content, specifically the levels of SM (sphingomyelin) and ceramide. To investigate this association in vivo, ldlr (LDL receptor)-null mice (ldlr-/-) were fed on a modified (atherogenic) diet containing saturated fats and cholesterol. The diet led to significantly elevated SM content in all serum lipoproteins. In contrast, ceramide increased only in the LDL particles. MS-based analyses of the lipid acyl chain composition revealed a marked elevation in C16:0 fatty acid in SM and ceramide, consistent with the prevalence of palmitic acid in the modified diet. The diet also led to increased activity of the S-SMase [secretory SMase (sphingomyelinase)], a protein that is generated by ASMase (acid SMase) and acts on serum LDL. An increased macrophage secretion seemed to be responsible for the elevated S-SMase activity. ASMase-deficient mice (asm-/-/ldlr-/-) lacked S-SMase activity and were protected from diet-induced elevation in LDL ceramide. LDL from asm-/-/ldlr-/- mice fed on the modified diet were less aggregated and oxidized than LDL from asm+/+/ldlr-/- mice. When tested in vitro, the propensity for aggregation was dependent on the SM level: only LDL from animals on modified diet that have high SM content aggregated when treated with recombinant S-SMase. In conclusion, LDL-SM content and S-SMase activity are up-regulated in mice fed on an atherogenic diet. S-SMase mediates diet-induced changes in LDL ceramide content and aggregation. S-SMase effectiveness in inducing aggregation is dependent on diet-induced enrichment of LDL with SM, possibly through increased hepatic synthesis.

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Published in Bioscience Reports, v. 32, issue 5, p. 479–490.

© 2012 The Author(s) This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.5/) which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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