Ceramide synthase 4 overexpression exerts oncogenic properties in breast cancer

Su Jeong Kim, Incheol Seo, Min Hee Kim, Joo Won Park, Shin Kim, Woo Jae Park

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Background: Ceramide, a bioactive signaling sphingolipid, has long been implicated in cancer. Members of the ceramide synthase (CerS) family determine the acyl chain lengths of ceramides, with ceramide synthase 4 (CerS4) primarily generating C18–C20-ceramide. Although CerS4 is known to be overexpressed in breast cancer, its role in breast cancer pathogenesis is not well established. Methods: To investigate the role of CerS4 in breast cancer, public datasets, including The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) and two Gene Expression Omnibus (GEO) datasets (GSE115577 and GSE96058) were analyzed. Furthermore, MCF-7 cells stably overexpressing CerS4 (MCF-7/CerS4) as a model for luminal subtype A (LumA) breast cancer were produced, and doxorubicin (also known as Adriamycin [AD])-resistant MCF-7/ADR cells were generated after prolonged treatment of MCF-7 cells with doxorubicin. Kaplan–Meier survival analysis assessed the clinical significance of CERS4 expression, while Student’s t-tests or Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) compared gene expression and cell viability in different MCF-7 cell lines. Results: Analysis of the public datasets revealed elevated CERS4 expression in breast cancer, especially in the most common breast cancer subtype, LumA. Persistent CerS4 overexpression in MCF-7 cells activated multiple cancer-associated pathways, including pathways involving sterol regulatory element–binding protein, nuclear factor kappa B (NF-κB), Akt/mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR), and β-catenin. Furthermore, MCF-7/CerS4 cells acquired doxorubicin, paclitaxel, and tamoxifen resistance, with concomitant upregulation of ATP-binding cassette (ABC) transporter genes, such as ABCB1, ABCC1, ABCC2, ABCC4, and ABCG2. MCF-7/CerS4 cells were characterized by increased cell migration and epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT). Finally, CERS4 knockdown in doxorubicin-resistant MCF-7/ADR cells resulted in reduced activation of cancer-associated pathways (NF-κB, Akt/mTOR, β-catenin, and EMT) and diminished chemoresistance, accompanied by ABCB1 and ABCC1 downregulation. Conclusions: Chronic CerS4 overexpression may exert oncogenic effects in breast cancer via alterations in signaling, EMT, and chemoresistance. Therefore, CerS4 may represent an attractive target for anticancer therapy, especially in LumA breast cancer.

Original languageEnglish
Article number183
JournalLipids in Health and Disease
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2023

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© 2023, The Author(s).


  • Ceramide acyl chain length
  • Ceramide synthase 4
  • Chemoresistance
  • Epithelial mesenchymal transition
  • Luminal subtype a breast cancer
  • Oncogene


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