Atherosclerosis is the major cause of ischemic coronary heart diseases and characterized by the infiltration of cholesterol-accumulating macrophages in the vascular wall. Although sphingolipids are implicated in atherosclerosis as both membrane components and lipid mediators, the precise role of sphingolipids in atherosclerosis remains elusive. Here, we found that genetic deficiency of sphingosine kinase-2 (SphK2) but not SphK1 aggravates the formation of atherosclerotic lesions in mice with ApoE deficiency. Bone marrow chimaera experiments show the involvement of SphK2 expressed in bone marrow-derived cells. In macrophages, deficiency of SphK2, a major SphK isoform in this cell type, results in increases in cellular sphingosine and ceramides. SphK2-deficient macrophages have increases in lipid droplet-containing autophagosomes and autolysosomes and defective lysosomal degradation of lipid droplets via autophagy with an impaired luminal acidic environment and proteolytic activity in the lysosomes. Transgenic overexpression of SphK1 in SphK2-deficient mice rescued aggravation of atherosclerosis and abnormalities of autophagosomes and lysosomes in macrophages with reductions of sphingosine, suggesting at least partial overlapping actions of two SphKs. Taken together, these results indicate that SphK2 is required for autophagosome- and lysosome-mediated catabolism of intracellular lipid droplets to impede the development of atherosclerosis; therefore, SphK2 may be a novel target for treating atherosclerosis.
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