Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV) is the etiologic agent for several human cancers including primary effusion lymphoma (PEL), a rapidly progressive malignancy arising preferentially in immunocompromised patients. With conventional chemotherapy, PEL continues to portend high mortality, dictating the development of novel therapeutic strategies. Sphingosine kinase 2 (SphK2) represents a key gatekeeper for sphingolipid metabolism, responsible for conversion of ceramides to sphingosine-1-phosphate (S1P). We have previously demonstrated that targeting SphK2 using a novel selective inhibitor, ABC294640, leads to intracellular accumulation of ceramides and induces apoptosis for KSHV-infected PEL cells, while suppressing tumor progression in vivo. In the current study, we sought to determine whether specific ceramide/dh-ceramide species and related ceramide synthases (CerS) impact viability for KSHV-infected PEL cells during targeting of SphK2. We found that several specific ceramide and dihydro(dh)-ceramide species and their associated CerS reduce PEL survival and tumor expansion in vitro and in vivo. Moreover, we found that dhC16- Cer induces PEL apoptosis in part through activation of KSHV lytic gene expression. These data further implicate bioactive sphingolipids in regulation of PEL survival, and provide justification for future studies evaluating clinically relevant ceramide analogs or mimetics for their potential as therapeutic agents for PEL.
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