Neutral sphingomyelinase 2 is activated by cigarette smoke to augment ceramide-induced apoptosis in lung cell death

Michal Levy, Elaine Khan, Milo Careaga, Tzipora Goldkorn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

58 Scopus citations


Cigarette smoke (CS) induces a rapid, sustained upregulation of ceramide production in human bronchial epithelial cells, leading to increased apoptosis. Using loss-of-function and overexpression analyses, we show that neutral sphingomyelinase 2 (nSMase2) is required for CS-mediated ceramide generation and apoptosis. Glutathione (GSH), a crucial antioxidant in lung defense, blocks nSMase2 activity and thus inhibits apoptosis triggered by CS. We found that the exposure to CS, as with exposure to H2O2, results in increased nSMase2 activation leading to ceramide generation and therefore increased apoptosis. Interestingly, exposure of cells to GSH abolishes nSMase2 activation caused by CS and leads to a decrease in CS-induced apoptosis. This suggests that the effects of CS oxidants on nSMase2 are counteracted by GSH. Our data support a model where CS induces nSMase2 activation thereby increasing membrane-sphingomyelin hydrolysis to ceramide. In turn, elevated ceramide enhances airway epithelial cell death, which causes bronchial and alveolar destruction and lung injury in pulmonary diseases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2009



  • Airway epithelial cells
  • Lung injury
  • Oxidative stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine
  • Physiology (medical)
  • Cell Biology
  • Physiology

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