Ceramide is a sphingolipid that serves as an important second messenger in an increasing number of stress-induced pathways. We sought to assess the impact of ceramide on skeletal muscle mitochondrial structure and function.
Ceramide is a sphingolipid that serves as an important second messenger in an increasing number of stress-induced pathways. Ceramide has long been known to affect the mitochondria, altering both morphology and physiology. We sought to assess the impact of ceramide on skeletal muscle mitochondrial structure and function. A primary observation was the rapid and dramatic division of mitochondria in ceramide-treated cells. This effect is likely to be a result of increased Drp1 (dynamin-related protein 1) action, as ceramide increased Drp1 expression and Drp1 inhibition prevented ceramide-induced mitochondrial fission. Further, we found that ceramide treatment reduced mitochondrial O2 consumption (i.e. respiration) in cultured myotubes and permeabilized red gastrocnemius muscle fibre bundles. Ceramide treatment also increased H2O2 levels and reduced Akt/PKB (protein kinase B) phosphorylation in myotubes. However, inhibition of mitochondrial fission via Drp1 knockdown completely protected the myotubes and fibre bundles from ceramide-induced metabolic disruption, including maintained mitochondrial respiration, reduced H2O2 levels and unaffected insulin signalling. These data suggest that the forced and sustained mitochondrial fission that results from ceramide accrual may alter metabolic function in skeletal muscle, which is a prominent site not only of energy demand (via the mitochondria), but also of ceramide accrual with weight gain.