Background: Hypertension is, amongst others, characterized by endothelial dysfunction and vascular remodeling. As sphingolipids have been implicated in both the regulation of vascular contractility and growth, we investigated whether sphingolipid biology is altered in hypertension and whether this is reflected in altered vascular function.
Methods and Findings: In isolated carotid arteries from spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHR) and normotensive Wistar-Kyoto (WKY) rats, shifting the ceramide/S1P ratio towards ceramide dominance by administration of a sphingosine kinase inhibitor (dimethylsphingosine) or exogenous application of sphingomyelinase, induced marked endothelium-dependent contractions in SHR vessels (DMS: 1.460.4 and SMase: 2.160.1 mN/mm; n = 10), that were virtually absent in WKY vessels (DMS: 0.060.0 and SMase: 0.660.1 mN/mm; n = 9, p,0.05). Imaging mass spectrometry and immunohistochemistry indicated that these contractions were most likely mediated by ceramide and dependent on iPLA2, cyclooxygenase-1 and thromboxane synthase. Expression levels of these enzymes were higher in SHR vessels. In concurrence, infusion of dimethylsphingosine caused a marked rise in blood pressure in anesthetized SHR (4264%; n = 7), but not in WKY (212610%; n = 6). Lipidomics analysis by mass spectrometry, revealed elevated levels of ceramide in arterial tissue of SHR compared to WKY (691642 vs. 419627 pmol, n = 3–5 respectively, p,0.05). These pronounced alterations in SHR sphingolipid biology are also reflected in increased plasma ceramide levels (513619 pmol WKY vs. 645625 pmol SHR, n = 6–12, p,0.05). Interestingly, we observed similar increases in ceramide levels (correlating with hypertension grade) in plasma from humans with essential hypertension (18568 pmol vs. 252623 pmol; n = 18 normotensive vs. n = 19 hypertensive patients, p,0.05).
Conclusions: Hypertension is associated with marked alterations in vascular sphingolipid biology such as elevated ceramide levels and signaling, that contribute to increased vascular tone.

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Journal PLoS One
Spijkers, L.L.A, van den Akker, R.F.P, Janssen, B.J.A, Debets, J.J, de Mey, J.G.R, Stroes, E.S.G, … Peters, S.L.M. (2011). Hypertension is associated with marked alterations in sphingolipid biology: a potential role for ceramide. PLoS One, 6(7, Article number: 21817), 1–9. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0021817