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Arch Biochem Biophys. 2000 Aug 15;380(2):319-30.

Intracellular thiol depletion causes mitochondrial permeability transition in ebselen-induced apoptosis.

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Department of Community, Occupational and Family Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, MD3, National University of Singapore, 16 Medical Drive, 117597, Singapore.


Ebselen, a selenoorganic compound, has recently been shown to display a novel property of inducing apoptosis through rapid depletion of intracellular thiols in human hepatoma cells, HepG(2). The present study was thus designed to explore the mechanism of how ebselen triggers apoptosis upon depletion of intracellular thiols. The results demonstrated that ebselen treatment triggered mitochondrial permeability transition rather rapidly as revealed by redistribution of calcein green fluorescence from cytosol into mitochondria. Ebselen treatment also caused a dose- and time-dependent loss of mitochondrial membrane potential (MMP) and release of cytochrome c. Pretreatment with N-acetylcysteine, a precursor of intracellular reduced glutathione (GSH) synthesis, significantly attenuated the ebselen-induced MMP disruption and subsequently inhibited the apoptosis. In contrast, pretreatment with buthionine sulfoximine, a specific inhibitor of intracellular GSH synthesis, significantly augmented the ebselen-induced MMP alteration, and enhanced the apoptosis. Although ebselen treatment significantly increased the intracellular superoxide radical and calcium concentrations, superoxide dismutase, and BAPTA (a calcium chelator), however, failed to prevent ebselen-induced MMP loss and apoptosis. Neither caspase-9 nor caspase-3 activation was detected in ebselen-treated cells. Z-VAD-FMK, a general caspase inhibitor, also had no effect on ebselen-induced MMP decrease and apoptosis. The overall findings thus suggest that mitochondrial permeability transition resulted from intracellular thiol depletion is a critical event in ebselen-induced apoptosis.

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