Ceramides are bioactive lipids that mediate cell death in cancer cells, and ceramide-based therapy is now being tested in dose-escalating phase I clinical trials as a cancer treatment. Multiple nanoscale delivery systems for ceramide have been proposed to overcome the inherent toxicities, poor pharmacokinetics, and difficult biophysics associated with ceramide. Using the ceramide nanoliposomes (CNL), we now investigate the therapeutic efficacy and signaling mechanisms of this nanoscale delivery platform in refractory ovarian cancer. Treatment of ovarian cancer cells with CNL decreased the number of living cells through necroptosis but not apoptosis. Mechanistically, dying SKOV3 ovarian cancer cells exhibit activation of pseudokinase mixed lineage kinase domain-like (MLKL) as evidenced by oligomerization and relocalization to the blebbing membranes, showing necroptotic characteristics. Knockdown of MLKL, but not its upstream protein kinases such as receptor-interacting protein kinases, with siRNA significantly abolished CNL-induced cell death. Monomeric MLKL protein expression inversely correlated with the IC 50 values of CNL in distinct ovarian cancer cell lines, suggesting MLKL as a possible determinant for CNL-induced cell death. Finally, systemic CNL administration suppressed metastatic growth in an ovarian cancer cell xenograft model. Taken together, these results suggest that MLKL is a novel pronecroptotic target for ceramide in ovarian cancer models.
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