GLP-1 Receptor Activation Inhibits Palmitate-Induced Apoptosis via Ceramide in Human Cardiac Progenitor Cells

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Increased apoptosis of cardiomyocytes and cardiac progenitor cells (CPCs) in response to saturated fatty acids (SFAs) can lead to myocardial damage and dysfunction. Ceramides mediate lipotoxicity-induced apoptosis. Glucagonlike peptide-1 receptor (GLP1R) agonists exert beneficial effects on cardiac cells in experimental models.


To investigate the protective effects of GLP1R activation on SFA-mediated apoptotic death of human CPCs.


Human CPCs were isolated from cardiac appendages of nondiabetic donors and then exposed to palmitate with or without pretreatment with the GLP1R agonist exendin-4. Ceramide accumulation was evaluated by immunofluorescence. Expression of key enzymes in de novo ceramide biosynthesis was studied by quantitative reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction and immunoblotting. Apoptosis was evaluated by measuring release of oligonucleosomes, caspase-3 cleavage, caspase activity, and terminal deoxynucleotidyltransferase-mediated dUTP nick end labeling.


Exposure of the CPCs to palmitate resulted in 2.3- and 1.9-fold higher expression of ceramide synthase 5 (CERS5) and ceramide desaturase-1, respectively (P < 0.05). This was associated with intracellular accumulation of ceramide and activation of c-Jun NH2-terminal protein kinase (JNK) signaling and apoptosis (P < 0.05). Both coincubation with fumonisin B1, a specific ceramide synthase inhibitor, and CERS5 knockdown prevented ceramide accumulation, JNK activation, and apoptosis in response to palmitate (P < 0.05). Exendin-4 also prevented the activation of the ceramide biosynthesis and JNK in response to palmitate, inhibiting apoptosis (P < 0.05).


Excess palmitate results in activation of ceramide biosynthesis, JNK signaling, and apoptosis in human CPCs. GLP1R activation counteracts this lipotoxic damage via inhibition of ceramide generation, and this may represent a cardioprotective mechanism.

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