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Cell Death Differ. 2008 Jan;15(1):171-82. Epub 2007 Oct 5.

Oxidative stress induces autophagic cell death independent of apoptosis in transformed and cancer cells.

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Manitoba Institute of Cell Biology, 675 McDermot Avenue, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.


Autophagy is a self-digestion process that degrades intracellular structures in response to stresses leading to cell survival. When autophagy is prolonged, this could lead to cell death. Generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) through oxidative stress causes cell death. The role of autophagy in oxidative stress-induced cell death is unknown. In this study, we report that two ROS-generating agents, hydrogen peroxide (H(2)O(2)) and 2-methoxyestradiol (2-ME), induced autophagy in the transformed cell line HEK293 and the cancer cell lines U87 and HeLa. Blocking this autophagy response using inhibitor 3-methyladenine or small interfering RNAs against autophagy genes, beclin-1, atg-5 and atg-7 inhibited H(2)O(2) or 2-ME-induced cell death. H(2)O(2) and 2-ME also induced apoptosis but blocking apoptosis using the caspase inhibitor zVAD-fmk (benzyloxycarbonyl-Val-Ala-Asp fluoromethylketone) failed to inhibit autophagy and cell death suggesting that autophagy-induced cell death occurred independent of apoptosis. Blocking ROS production induced by H(2)O(2) or 2-ME through overexpression of manganese-superoxide dismutase or using ROS scavenger 4,5-dihydroxy-1,3-benzene disulfonic acid-disodium salt decreased autophagy and cell death. Blocking autophagy did not affect H(2)O(2)- or 2-ME-induced ROS generation, suggesting that ROS generation occurs upstream of autophagy. In contrast, H(2)O(2) or 2-ME failed to significantly increase autophagy in mouse astrocytes. Taken together, ROS induced autophagic cell death in transformed and cancer cells but failed to induce autophagic cell death in non-transformed cells.

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