Targeting sphingosine kinase 1 (SK1) enhances oncogene-induced senescence through ceramide synthase 2 (CerS2)-mediated generation of very-long-chain ceramides

Magali Trayssac, Christopher J. Clarke, Jeffrey L. Stith, Justin M. Snider, Naomi Newen, Christopher R. Gault, Yusuf A. Hannun, Lina M. Obeid

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Senescence is an antiproliferative mechanism that can suppress tumor development and can be induced by oncogenes such as genes of the Ras family. Although studies have implicated bioactive sphingolipids (SL) in senescence, the specific mechanisms remain unclear. Here, using MCF10A mammary epithelial cells, we demonstrate that oncogenic K-Ras (Kirsten rat sarcoma viral oncogene homolog) is sufficient to induce cell transformation as well as cell senescence—as revealed by increases in the percentage of cells in the G1 phase of the cell cycle, p21WAF1/Cip1/CDKN1A (p21) expression, and senescence-associated β-galactosidase activity (SA-β-gal). Furthermore, oncogenic K-Ras altered SL metabolism, with an increase of long-chain (LC) C18, C20 ceramides (Cer), and very-long-chain (VLC) C22:1, C24 Cer, and an increase of sphingosine kinase 1 (SK1) expression. Since Cer and sphingosine-1-phosphate have been shown to exert opposite effects on cellular senescence, we hypothesized that targeting SK1 could enhance oncogenic K-Ras-induced senescence. Indeed, SK1 downregulation or inhibition enhanced p21 expression and SA-β-gal in cells expressing oncogenic K-Ras and impeded cell growth. Moreover, SK1 knockdown further increased LC and VLC Cer species (C18, C20, C22:1, C24, C24:1, C26:1), especially the ones increased by oncogenic K-Ras. Fumonisin B1 (FB1), an inhibitor of ceramide synthases (CerS), reduced p21 expression induced by oncogenic K-Ras both with and without SK1 knockdown. Functionally, FB1 reversed the growth defect induced by oncogenic K-Ras, confirming the importance of Cer generation in the senescent phenotype. More specifically, downregulation of CerS2 by siRNA blocked the increase of VLC Cer (C24, C24:1, and C26:1) induced by SK1 knockdown and phenocopied the effects of FB1 on p21 expression. Taken together, these data show that targeting SK1 is a potential therapeutic strategy in cancer, enhancing oncogene-induced senescence through an increase of VLC Cer downstream of CerS2.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number27
JournalCell Death and Disease
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2021
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Cell Biology
  • Cancer Research


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