Ceramide metabolism has come under recent scrutiny because of its role in cellular stress responses. CerS2 (ceramide synthase 2) is one of the six mammalian isoforms of ceramide synthase and is responsible for the synthesis of VLC (very-long-chain) ceramides, e.g. C24, C24:1. To study the role of CerS2 in ceramide metabolism and cellular homoeostasis, we down-regulated CerS2 using siRNA (small interfering RNA) and examined several aspects of sphingolipid metabolism and cell stress responses. CerS2 down-regulation had a broad effect on ceramide homoeostasis, not just on VLC ceramides. Surprisingly, CerS2 down-regulation resulted in significantly increased LC (long-chain) ceramides, e.g. C14, C16, and our results suggested that the increase was due to a ceramide synthase-independent mechanism. CerS2-down-regulation-induced LC ceramide accumulation resulted in growth arrest which was not accompanied by apoptotic cell death. Instead, cells remained viable, showing induction of autophagy and activation of PERK [PKR (double-stranded-RNA-dependent protein kinase)-like endoplasmic reticulum kinase] and IRE1 (inositol-requiring 1) pathways [the latter indicating activation of the UPR (unfolded protein response)].

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