Astrocytes secrete exosomes enriched with proapoptotic ceramide and Prostate Apoptosis Response 4 (PAR-4): Potential mechanism of apoptosis induction in Alzheimer Disease (AD)

Guanghu Wang, Michael Dinkins, Qian He, Gu Zhu, Christophe Poirier, Andrew Campbell, Margot Mayer-Proschel, Erhard Bieberich

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170 Scopus citations


Amyloid protein is well known to induce neuronal cell death, whereas only little is known about its effect on astrocytes. We found that amyloid peptides activated caspase 3 and induced apoptosis in primary cultured astrocytes, which was prevented by caspase 3 inhibition. Apoptosis was also prevented by shRNA-mediated down-regulation of PAR-4, a protein sensitizing cells to the sphingolipid ceramide. Consistent with a potentially proapoptotic effect of PAR-4 and ceramide, astrocytes surrounding amyloid plaques in brain sections of the 5xFAD mouse (and Alzheimer disease patient brain) showed caspase 3 activation and were apoptotic when co-expressing PAR-4 and ceramide. Apoptosis was not observed in astrocytes with deficient neutral sphingomyelinase 2 (nSMase2), indicating that ceramide generated by nSMase2 is critical for amyloid-induced apoptosis. Antibodies against PAR-4 and ceramide prevented amyloid-induced apoptosis in vitro and in vivo, suggesting that apoptosis was mediated by exogenous PAR-4 and ceramide, potentially associated with secreted lipid vesicles. This was confirmed by the analysis of lipid vesicles from conditioned medium showing that amyloid peptide induced the secretion of PAR-4 and C18 ceramide-enriched exosomes. Exosomes were not secreted by nSMase2-deficient astrocytes, indicating that ceramide generated by nSMase2 is critical for exosome secretion. Consistent with the ceramide composition in amyloid-induced exosomes, exogenously added C18 ceramide restored PAR-4-containing exosome secretion in nSMase2-deficient astrocytes. Moreover, isolated PAR-4/ceramide-enriched exosomes were taken up by astrocytes and induced apoptosis in the absence of amyloid peptide. Taken together, we report a novel mechanism of apoptosis induction by PAR-4/ceramide-enriched exosomes, which may critically contribute to Alzheimer disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)21384-21395
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number25
StatePublished - Jun 15 2012


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology

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