Ceramides Increase Fatty Acid Utilization in Intestinal Progenitors to Enhance Stemness and Increase Tumor Risk

Ying Li, Bhagirath Chaurasia, M Mahidur Rahman, Vincent Kaddai, J Alan Maschek, Jordan A Berg, Joseph L Wilkerson, Ziad S Mahmassani, James Cox, Peng Wei, Peter J Meikle, Donald Atkinson, Liping Wang, Annelise M Poss, Mary C Playdon, Trevor S Tippetts, Esraa M Mousa, Kesara Nittayaboon, Pon Velayutham Anandh Babu, Micah J DrummondHans Clevers, James A Shayman, Yoshio Hirabayashi, William L Holland, Jared Rutter, Bruce A Edgar, Scott A Summers

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND & AIMS: Cancers of the alimentary tract, including esophageal adenocarcinomas, colorectal cancers, and cancers of the gastric cardia, are common comorbidities of obesity. Prolonged, excessive delivery of macronutrients to the cells lining the gut can increase one's risk for these cancers by inducing imbalances in the rate of intestinal stem cell proliferation vs differentiation, which can produce polyps and other aberrant growths. We investigated whether ceramides, which are sphingolipids that serve as a signal of nutritional excess, alter stem cell behaviors to influence cancer risk.

METHODS: We profiled sphingolipids and sphingolipid-synthesizing enzymes in human adenomas and tumors. Thereafter, we manipulated expression of sphingolipid-producing enzymes, including serine palmitoyltransferase (SPT), in intestinal progenitors of mice, cultured organoids, and Drosophila to discern whether sphingolipids altered stem cell proliferation and metabolism.

RESULTS: SPT, which diverts dietary fatty acids and amino acids into the biosynthetic pathway that produces ceramides and other sphingolipids, is a critical modulator of intestinal stem cell homeostasis. SPT and other enzymes in the sphingolipid biosynthesis pathway are up-regulated in human intestinal adenomas. They produce ceramides, which serve as prostemness signals that stimulate peroxisome-proliferator activated receptor-α and induce fatty acid binding protein-1. These actions lead to increased lipid utilization and enhanced proliferation of intestinal progenitors.

CONCLUSIONS: Ceramides serve as critical links between dietary macronutrients, epithelial regeneration, and cancer risk.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1136-1150
Number of pages15
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2023


  • Humans
  • Animals
  • Mice
  • Ceramides/metabolism
  • Fatty Acids
  • Sphingolipids/metabolism
  • Serine C-Palmitoyltransferase/metabolism
  • Adenoma


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