Ceramides are necessary and sufficient for diet-induced impairment of thermogenic adipocytes

Bhagirath Chaurasia, Li Ying, Chad Lamar Talbot, John Alan Maschek, James Cox, Edward H. Schuchman, Yoshio Hirabayashi, William L. Holland, Scott A. Summers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Objective: Aging and weight gain lead to a decline in brown and beige adipocyte functionality that exacerbates obesity and insulin resistance. We sought to determine whether sphingolipids, such as ceramides, a class of lipid metabolites that accumulate in aging and overnutrition, are sufficient or necessary for the metabolic impairment of these thermogenic adipocytes. Methods: We generated new mouse models allowing for the conditional ablation of genes required for ceramide synthesis (i.e., serine palmitoyltransferase subunit 2, Sptlc2) or degradation (i.e., acid ceramidase 1, Asah1) from mature, thermogenic adipocytes (i.e., from cells expressing uncoupling protein-1). Mice underwent a comprehensive suite of phenotyping protocols to assess energy expenditure and glucose and lipid homeostasis. Complementary studies were conducted in primary brown adipocytes to dissect the mechanisms controlling ceramide synthesis or action. Results: Depletion of Sptlc2 increased energy expenditure, improved glucose homeostasis, and prevented diet-induced obesity. Conversely, depletion of Asah1 led to ceramide accumulation, diminution of energy expenditure, and exacerbation of insulin resistance and obesity. Mechanistically, ceramides slowed lipolysis, inhibited glucose uptake, and decreased mitochondrial respiration. Moreover, β-adrenergic receptor agonists, which activate thermogenesis in brown adipocytes, decreased transcription of enzymes required for ceramide synthesis. Conclusions: These studies support our hypothesis that ceramides are necessary and sufficient for the impairment in thermogenic adipocyte function that accompanies obesity. Moreover, they suggest that implementation of therapeutic strategies to block ceramide synthesis in thermogenic adipocytes may serve as a means of improving adipose health and combating obesity and cardiometabolic disease.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101145
JournalMolecular Metabolism
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • Ceramides
  • Diabetes
  • Insulin resistance
  • Obesity
  • Sphingolipids
  • brown adipose tissue


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