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J Biol Chem. 2001 Apr 13;276(15):12035-40. Epub 2000 Dec 27.

Arachidonic acid causes cell death through the mitochondrial permeability transition. Implications for tumor necrosis factor-alpha aopototic signaling.

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  • 1Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche Unit for the Study of Biomembranes at the Department of Biomedical Sciences, Viale Giuseppe Colombo 3, I-35121 Padova, Italy.


We have investigated the effects of arachidonic and palmitic acids in isolated rat liver mitochondria and in rat hepatoma MH1C1 cells. We show that both compounds induce the mitochondrial permeability transition (PT). At variance from palmitic acid, however, arachidonic acid causes a PT at concentrations that do not cause PT-independent depolarization or respiratory inhibition, suggesting a specific effect on the PT pore. When added to intact MH1C1 cells, arachidonic acid but not palmitic acid caused a mitochondrial PT in situ that was accompanied by cytochrome c release and rapidly followed by cell death. All these effects of arachidonic acid could be prevented by cyclosporin A but not by the phospholipase A(2) inhibitor aristolochic acid. In contrast, tumor necrosis factor alpha caused phospholipid hydrolysis, induction of the PT, cytochrome c release, and cell death that could be inhibited by both cyclosporin A and aristolochic acid. These findings suggest that arachidonic acid produced by cytosolic phospholipase A(2) may be a mediator of tumor necrosis factor alpha cytotoxicity in situ through induction of the mitochondrial PT.

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