Ceramide is now recognized as a negative regulator of insulin signaling by impairing protein kinase B (PKB)/Akt activation. In different cells, two distinct mechanisms have been proposed to mediate ceramide inhibition of PKB/Akt: one involving atypical protein kinase C zeta (PKC) and the other the protein phosphatase-2 (PP2A). We hypothesized that ceramide action through PKC or PP2A might depend on plasma membrane (PM) structural organization and especially on caveolin-enriched domain (CEM) abundance.


We have used different PKC mutant constructs or the PP2A inhibitor, okadaic acid (OKA), to selectively inhibit PKC- and PP2A-dependent pathways in cells expressing different caveolin-1 levels and evaluated the impact of insulin and ceramide on PKB/Akt activity in different PM subdomains.


Although the PKC-mediated negative effect of ceramide on insulin-stimulated PKB/Akt was dominant in adipocytes, a ceramide action through PP2A outside CEMs, prevented by OKA, was also unraveled. To test the importance of CEM to direct ceramide action through the PKC pathway, we treated 3T3-L1 preadipocytes devoid of CEMs with ceramide and we saw a shift of the lipid-negative action on PKB/Akt to a PP2A-mediated mechanism. In fibroblasts with low CEM abundance, the ceramide-activated PP2A pathway dominated, but could be shifted to a ceramide-activated PKC pathway after caveolin-1 overexpression.


Our results show that ceramide can switch from a PKC-dependent mechanism to a PP2A pathway, acting negatively on PKB/Akt, and hence revealing a critical role of CEMs of the PM in this process.


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