Glycosphingolipids (GSLs) hexosylceramides and lactosylceramides are elevated in lupus mice and human patients with nephritis. Whereas other renal diseases characterized by increased GSL levels are thought to be a result of upregulated GSL synthesis, our results suggest elevated hexosylceramides and lactosylceramides in lupus nephritis is a result of increased catabolism of ganglioside GM3 due to significantly increased neuraminidase (NEU) activity. Thus, we hypothesized GM3 would be decreased in lupus nephritis kidneys and blocking NEU activity would reduce GSLs and improve disease in lupus mice. Female MRL/lpr lupus mice were treated with water or the NEU inhibitor oseltamivir phosphate at the onset of proteinuria to block GSL catabolism. Age-matched (non-nephritic) female MRL/MpJ lupus mice served as controls. Renal GM3 levels were significantly higher in the nephritic MRL/lpr water-treated mice compared to non-nephritic MRL/MpJ mice, despite significantly increased renal NEU activity. Blocking GSL catabolism increased, rather than decreased, renal and urine GSL levels and disease was not significantly impacted. A pilot study treating MRL/lpr females with GlcCer synthase inhibitor Genz-667161 to block GSL synthesis resulted in a strong significant negative correlation between Genz-667161 dose and renal GSL hexosylceramide and GM3 levels. Splenomegaly was negatively correlated and serum IgG levels were marginally correlated with increasing Genz-667161 dose. These results suggest accumulation of renal GM3 may be due to dysregulation of one or more of the GSL ganglioside pathways and inhibiting GSL synthesis, but not catabolism, may be a therapeutic approach for treating lupus nephritis.
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