We previously reported that IL-2 deprivation induced acid sphingomyelinase-mediated (ASM-mediated) ceramide elevation and apoptosis in an NK/T lymphoma cell line KHYG-1. However, the molecular mechanism of ASM-ceramide-mediated apoptosis during IL-2 deprivation is poorly understood. Here, we showed that IL-2 deprivation induces caspase-dependent apoptosis characterized by phosphatidylserine externalization, caspase-8, -9, and -3 cleavage, and degradation of X-linked inhibitor of apoptosis protein (XIAP). IL-2 re-supplementation rescued apoptosis via inhibition of XIAP degradation without affecting caspase cleavage. However, IL-2 deprivation induced ceramide elevation via ASM in lysosomes and activated lysosomal cathepsin B (CTSB) but not cathepsin D. A CTSB inhibitor CA-074 Me and knockdown of CTSB inhibited ceramide-mediated XIAP degradation and apoptosis. Inhibition of ceramide accumulation in lysosomes using an ASM inhibitor, desipramine, decreased cytosolic activation of CTSB by inhibiting its transfer into cytosol from the lysosome. Knockdown of ASM also inhibited XIAP degradation and apoptosis. Furthermore, cell permeable N-acetyl sphingosine (C2-ceramide), which increases mainly endogenous d18:1/16:0 and d18:1/24:1 ceramide-like IL-2 deprivation, induced caspase-dependent apoptosis with XIAP degradation through CTSB. These findings suggest that lysosomal ceramide produced by ASM mediates XIAP degradation by activation of cytosolic CTSB and caspase-dependent apoptosis. The ASM-ceramide-CTSB signaling axis is a novel pathway of ceramide-mediated apoptosis in IL-2-deprived NK/T lymphoma cells.
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