Imipramine blocks ethanol-induced ASMase activation, ceramide generation, and PP2A activation, and ameliorates hepatic steatosis in ethanol-fed mice

Suthat Liangpunsakul, Yasmeen Rahmini, Ruth A. Ross, Zhenwen Zhao, Yan Xu, David W. Crabb

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42 Scopus citations


The effect of ethanol on AMP-activated protein kinase phosphorylation was reversed by imipramine, suggesting that the generation of ceramide via acid sphingomyelinase (ASMase) is stimulated by ethanol. In this study, we determined the effects of imipramine on the development of hepatic steatosis, the generation of ceramide, and downstream effects of ceramide on inflammatory, insulin, and apoptotic signaling pathways, in ethanol-fed mice. The effect of ethanol and imipramine (10 μg/g body wt ip) on ceramide levels, as well as inflammatory, insulin, and apoptotic signaling pathways, was studied in C57BL/6J mice fed the Lieber-DeCarli diet. Ethanol-fed mice developed the expected steatosis, and cotreatment with imipramine for the last 2 wk of ethanol feeding resulted in improvement in hepatic steatosis. Ethanol feeding for 4 wk induced impaired glucose tolerance compared with controls, and this was modestly improved with imipramine treatment. There was a significant decrease in total ceramide concentrations in response to imipramine in ethanol-fed mice treated with and without imipramine (287 ± 11 vs. 348 ± 12 pmol/mg tissue). The magnitude and specificity of inhibition on each ceramide species differed. A significant decrease was observed for C16 (28 ± 3 vs. 33 ± 2 pmol/mg tissue) and C24 (164 ± 9 vs. 201 ± 4 pmol/mg tissue) ceramide. Ethanol feeding increased the levels of the phosphorylated forms of ERK slightly and increased phospho-p38 and phospho-JNK substantially. The levels of phospho-p38 and phospho-JNK were reduced by treatment with imipramine. The activation of ASMase and generation of ceramide in response to ethanol feeding may underlie several effects of ethanol. ASMase inhibitors may be considered as a therapeutic target for alcohol-induced hepatic steatosis and activation of stress kinases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)G515-G523
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 1 2012


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Hepatology
  • Gastroenterology
  • Physiology (medical)

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