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Toxicol Sci. 2014 Feb;137(2):404-15. doi: 10.1093/toxsci/kft254. Epub 2013 Nov 5.

Sertraline, an antidepressant, induces apoptosis in hepatic cells through the mitogen-activated protein kinase pathway.

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* Division of Biochemical Toxicology, National Center for Toxicological Research, U.S. FDA, Jefferson, AR 72079;


Sertraline is generally used for the treatment of depression and is also approved for the treatment of panic, obsessive-compulsive, and posttraumatic stress disorders. Previously, using rat primary hepatocytes and isolated mitochondria, we demonstrated that sertraline caused hepatic cytotoxicity and mitochondrial impairment. In the current study, we investigated and characterized molecular mechanisms of sertraline toxicity in human hepatoma HepG2 cells. Sertraline decreased cell viability and induced apoptosis in a dose- and time-dependent manner. Sertraline activated the intrinsic checkpoint protein caspase-9 and caused the release of cytochrome c from mitochondria to cytosol; this process was Bcl-2 family dependent because antiapoptotic Bcl-2 family proteins were decreased. Pretreatment of the HepG2 cells with caspase-3, caspase-8, and caspase-9 inhibitors partially but significantly reduced the release of lactate dehydrogenase, indicating that sertraline-induced apoptosis is mediated by both intrinsic and extrinsic apoptotic pathways. Moreover, sertraline markedly increased the expression of tumor necrosis factor (TNF) and the phosphorylation of JNK, extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK1/2), and p38. In sertraline-treated cells, the induction of apoptosis and cell death was shown to be the result of activation of JNK, but not ERK1/2 or p38 in the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathway. Furthermore, silencing MAP4K4, the upstream kinase of JNK, attenuated both apoptosis and cell death caused by sertraline. Taken together, our findings suggest that sertraline induced apoptosis in HepG2 cells at least partially via activation of the TNF-MAP4K4-JNK cascade signaling pathway.


MAPK pathway.; apoptosis; cell death; liver toxicity; mitochondrial dysfunction; sertraline

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