Plasma sphingolipids are biomarkers of metabolic syndrome in non-human primates maintained on a Western-style diet

J. T. Brozinick, E. Hawkins, H. Hoang Bui, M. S. Kuo, B. Tan, P. Kievit, Kevin Grove

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

85 Scopus citations


Background: The intake of a Western diet enriched in animal fat has been shown to be a major risk factor for Type 2 diabetes and obesity. Previous rodent studies have indicated that these conditions may be triggered by the accumulation of the sphingolipid ceramide in insulin-sensitive tissues. However, data are lacking in this regard from both humans and non-human primates.Objective: Here we have investigated the relationship between plasma ceramides and metabolic syndrome in Rhesus macaques fed a high-fat and high-fructose (HFFD) 'western' diet. Methods: We investigated this relationship in cohorts of monkeys fed a HFFD for a period of 8 months to 5 years. Animals were classified as control, pre-diabetic or diabetic based on fasting plasma parameters and insulin sensitivity. Results: HFFD treatment produced significant increases in body weight and body fat and also resulted in a decline in insulin sensitivity. In parallel to the reduction in insulin sensitivity, significant increases in both plasma ceramide and dihydroceramide levels were observed, which further increased as animals progressed to the diabetic state. Plasma levels of the rare sphingolipid C18:0 deoxysphinganine, a marker of increased metabolic flux through serine palmitoyl transferase (SPT), were also elevated in both pre-and diabetic animals. Furthermore, plasma serine levels were significantly elevated in diabetic monkeys, which may indicate a shift in SPT substrate selectivity from serine to alanine or glycine. In contrast, branch chain amino acids were unchanged in pre-diabetic non-human primates, and only plasma valine levels were elevated in diabetic animals. Conclusion: Together, these data indicate that HFFD induces de novo synthesis of ceramides in non-human primates, and that increased production of plasma ceramides is significantly correlated with the decline in insulin sensitivity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1064-1070
Number of pages7
JournalInternational Journal of Obesity
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2013


  • ceramide
  • insulin resistance
  • rhesus monkey

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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