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Mol Carcinog. 2010 Jan;49(1):68-74. doi: 10.1002/mc.20578.

N-acetyl cysteine and penicillamine induce apoptosis via the ER stress response-signaling pathway.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Fudan University, Shanghai, China.


N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) and penicillamine (PEN) have been shown to induce apoptosis in multiple types of human cancer cells; however, the molecular mechanism underlying this activity is unclear. This study was designed to identify the genes responsible for apoptosis induction by NAC and PEN. We found that glucose-regulated protein 78 (GRP78) was upregulated in HeLa cells following treatment with NAC or PEN. GRP78 is a central regulator of endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress and has been used as a marker of ER stress. Additionally, both the activating transcription factor 6 (ATF6) protein and X box-binding protein 1 (XBP1) mRNA were processed, which facilitates the expression of C/EBP homologous protein (CHOP), a key-signaling component of ER stress-induced apoptosis. Furthermore, the PERK-ATF4 pathway, which also induces the expression of CHOP, was activated in NAC-treated cells. The role of the ER stress pathway was further confirmed through the small interfering RNA (siRNA)-mediated knockdown of CHOP, which attenuated NAC and PEN-induced apoptosis. These results demonstrate that NAC- and PEN-induced apoptosis in HeLa cells is mediated by the ER stress pathway.

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