Risk for childhood asthma is conferred by alleles within the 17q21 locus affecting ORMDL sphingolipid biosynthesis regulator 3 (ORMDL3) expression. ORMDL3 inhibits sphingolipid de novo synthesis. Although the effects of 17q21 genotypes on sphingolipid synthesis in human asthma remain unclear, both decreased sphingolipid synthesis and ORMDL3 overexpression are linked to airway hyperreactivity. To characterize the relationship of genetic asthma susceptibility with sphingolipid synthesis, we analyzed asthma-associated 17q21 genotypes (rs7216389, rs8076131, rs4065275, rs12603332, and rs8067378) in both children with asthma and those without asthma, quantified plasma and whole-blood sphingolipids, and assessed sphingolipid de novo synthesis in peripheral blood cells by measuring the incorporation of stable isotope–labeled serine (substrate) into sphinganine and sphinganine-1-phosphate. Whole-blood dihydroceramides and ceramides were decreased in subjects with the 17q21 asthma–risk alleles rs7216389 and rs8076131. Children with nonallergic asthma had lower dihydroceramides, ceramides, and sphingomyelins than did controls. Children with allergic asthma had higher dihydroceramides, ceramides, and sphingomyelins compared with children with nonallergic asthma. Additionally, de novo sphingolipid synthesis was lower in children with asthma compared with controls. These findings connect genetic 17q21 variations that are associated with asthma risk and higher ORMDL3 expression to lower sphingolipid synthesis in humans. Altered sphingolipid synthesis may therefore be a critical factor in asthma pathogenesis and may guide the development of future therapeutics.


Jennie G. Ono, Benjamin I. Kim, Yize Zhao, Paul J. Christos, Yohannes Tesfaigzi, Tilla S. Worgall, Stefan Worgall


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