PloS one

Ceramide mediates Ox-LDL-induced human vascular smooth muscle cell calcification via p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase signaling.

PMID 24358176


Vascular calcification is associated with significant cardiovascular morbidity and mortality, and has been demonstrated as an actively regulated process resembling bone formation. Oxidized low density lipoprotein (Ox-LDL) has been identified as a regulatory factor involved in calcification of vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs). Additionally, over-expression of recombinant human neutral sphingomyelinase (N-SMase) has been shown to stimulate VSMC apoptosis, which plays an important role in the progression of vascular calcification. The aim of this study is to investigate whether ceramide regulates Ox-LDL-induced calcification of VSMCs via activation of p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathway. Ox-LDL increased the activity of N-SMase and the level of ceramide in cultured VSMCs. Calcification and the osteogenic transcription factor, Msx2 mRNA expression were reduced by N-SMase inhibitor, GW4869 in the presence of Ox-LDL. Usage of GW4869 inhibited Ox-LDL-induced apoptosis in VSMCs, an effect which was reversed by C2-ceramide. Additionally, C2-ceramide treatment accelerated VSMC calcification, with a concomitant increase in ALP activity. Furthermore, C2-ceramide treatment enhanced Ox-LDL-induced VSMC calcification. Addition of caspase inhibitor, ZVAD-fmk attenuated Ox-LDL-induced calcification. Both Ox-LDL and C2-ceramide treatment increased the phosphorylation of p38 MAPK. Inhibition of p38 MAPK by SB203580 attenuated Ox-LDL-induced calcification of VSMCs. These data suggest that Ox-LDL activates N-SMase-ceramide signaling pathway, and stimulates phosphorylation of p38 MAPK, leading to apoptosis in VSMCs, which initiates VSMC calcification.