Ceramide activates lysosomal cathepsin B and cathepsin D to attenuate autophagy and induces ER stress to suppress myeloidderived suppressor cells

Feiyan Liu, Xia Li, Chunwan Lu, Aiping Bai, Jacek Bielawski, Alicja Bielawska, Brendan Marshall, Patricia V Schoenlein, Iryna Oleksandrivna Lebedyeva, Kebin Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

29 Scopus citations


Myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs) are immune suppressive cells that are hallmarks of human cancer. MDSCs inhibit cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) and NK cell functions to promote tumor immune escape and progression, and therefore are considered key targets in cancer immunotherapy. Recent studies determined a key role of the apoptosis pathways in tumor-induced MDSC homeostasis and it is known that ceramide plays a key role in regulation of mammalian cell apoptosis. In this study, we aimed to determine the efficacy and underlying molecular mechanism of ceramide in suppression of MDSCs. Treatment of tumor-bearing mice with LCL521, a lysosomotropic inhibitor of acid ceramidase, significantly decreased MDSC accumulation in vivo. Using a MDSC-like myeloid cell model, we determined that LCL521 targets lysosomes and increases total cellular C16 ceramide level. Although MDSC-like cells have functional apoptosis pathways, LCL521-induced MDSC death occurs in an apoptosis- and necroptosis-independent mechanism. LCL521 treatment resulted in an increase in the number of autophagic vesicles, heterolysosomes and swollen ERs. Finally, concomitant inhibition of cathepsin B and cathepsin D was required to significantly decrease LCL521-induced cell death. Our observations indicate that LCL521 targets lysosomes to activate cathepsin B and cathepsin D, resulting in interrupted autophagy and ER stress that culminates in MDSC death. Therefore, a ceramidase inhibitor is potentially an effective adjunct therapeutic agent for suppression of MDSCs to enhance the efficacy of CTL-based cancer immunotherapy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)83907-83925
Number of pages19
Issue number51
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2016



  • Autophagy flux
  • Cathepsin
  • Ceramide
  • Immune response
  • Immunity
  • Immunology and Microbiology Section
  • Lysosomal cell death
  • MDSCs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology

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