Role of ceramide-to-dihydroceramide ratios for insulin resistance and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in humans

Maria Apostolopoulou, Ruth Gordillo, Sofiya Gancheva, Klaus Strassburger, Christian Herder, Irene Esposito, Matthias Schlensak, Philipp E. Scherer, Michael Roden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Introduction Sphingolipid accumulation has been linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). A recent study showed that depletion of dihydroceramide desaturase-1 (DES-1) in adipose and/or liver tissue decreases ceramide-to-dihydroceramide ratios (ceramide/dihydroceramide) in several tissues and improves the metabolic profile in mice. We tested the hypothesis that ceramide/dihydroceramide would also be elevated and relate positively to liver fat content and insulin resistance in humans. Research design and methods Thus, we assessed total and specific ceramide/dihydroceramide in various biosamples of 7 lean and 21 obese volunteers without or with different NAFLD stages, who were eligible for abdominal or bariatric surgery, respectively. Biosamples were obtained from serum, liver, rectus abdominis muscle as well as subcutaneous abdominal and visceral adipose tissue during surgery. Results Surprisingly, certain serum and liver ceramide/dihydroceramide ratios were reduced in both obesity and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) and related inversely to liver fat content. Specifically, hepatic ceramide/dihydroceramide (species 16:0) related negatively to hepatic mitochondrial capacity and lipid peroxidation. In visceral adipose tissue, ceramide/dihydroceramide (species 16:0) associated positively with markers of inflammation. Conclusion These results failed to confirm the relationships of ceramide/dihydroceramide in humans with different degree of insulin resistance. However, the low hepatic ceramide/dihydroceramide favor a role for dihydroceramide accumulation in NASH, while a specific ceramide/dihydroceramide ratio in visceral adipose tissue suggests a role of ceramides in obesity-associated low-grade inflammation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere001860
JournalBMJ Open Diabetes Research and Care
Issue number2
StatePublished - Nov 20 2020


  • inflammation
  • insulin resistance
  • non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
  • obesity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism


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