• c-Fos;
  • c-Jun;
  • JNKs;
  • SAPKs;
  • MAPK;
  • p53;
  • primary cultures


Ceramide, the central molecule of the sphingomyelin pathway, serves as a second messenger for cellular functions ranging from proliferation and differentiation to growth arrest and apoptosis. In this study we show that c2-ceramide induces apoptosis in primary cortical neuron cultures and that this effect correlates with differential modulation of mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) cascades. Phosphorylation of extracellular signal-regulated kinases (ERKs) and their upstream activators MAPK kinases (MEKs), as measured by immunoblotting is rapidly decreased by c2-ceramide. However, the MEK inhibitor PD98059 alone does not induce apoptosis and in combination with c2-ceramide it does not modify c2-ceramide-induced apoptosis. Treatment with c2-ceramide increases p38 and c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) phosphorylation before and during caspase-3 activation. The p38 inhibitor SB203580 partially protects cortical neurons against c2-ceramide-induced apoptosis, implicating the p38 pathway in this process. The c2-ceramide treatment also increases levels of c-jun, c-fos and p53 mRNA in primary cortical neuron cultures, but this is independent of p38 activation. Our study further elucidates the time-courses of MAPK cascade modulation, and of c-jun, c-fos and p53 activation during c2-ceramide-induced neuronal apoptosis. It reveals that one of the activated kinases, p38, is necessary for this apoptosis.