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Biomed Environ Sci. 2016 Feb;29(2):117-26. doi: 10.3967/bes2016.013.

Cadmium Activates Reactive Oxygen Species-dependent AKT/mTOR and Mitochondrial Apoptotic Pathways in Neuronal Cells.

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College of Veterinary Medicine, Yangzhou University, Yangzhou 225009, Jiangsu, China; Jiangsu Co-innovation Center for Prevention and Control of Important Animal Infectious Diseases and Zoonoses, Yangzhou 225009, Jiangsu, China.



To examine the role of Cd-induced reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation in the apoptosis of neuronal cells.


Neuronal cells (primary rat cerebral cortical neurons and PC12 cells) were incubated with or without Cd post-pretreatment with rapamycin (Rap) or N-acetyl-L-cysteine (NAC). Cell viability was determined by MTT assay, apoptosis was examined using flow cytometry and fluorescence microscopy, and the activation of phosphoinositide 3'-kinase/protein kinase B (Akt)/mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) and mitochondrial apoptotic pathways were measured by western blotting or immunofluorescence assays.


Cd-induced activation of Akt/mTOR signaling, including Akt, mTOR, p70 S6 kinase (p70 S6K), and eukaryotic initiation factor 4E binding protein 1 (4E-BP1). Rap, an mTOR inhibitor and NAC, a ROS scavenger, blocked Cd-induced activation of Akt/mTOR signaling and apoptosis of neuronal cells. Furthermore, NAC blocked the decrease of B-cell lymphoma 2/Bcl-2 associated X protein (Bcl-2/Bax) ratio, release of cytochrome c, cleavage of caspase-3 and poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP), and nuclear translocation of apoptosis-inducing factor (AIF) and endonuclease G (Endo G).


Cd-induced ROS generation activates Akt/mTOR and mitochondrial pathways, leading to apoptosis of neuronal cells. Our findings suggest that mTOR inhibitors or antioxidants have potential for preventing Cd-induced neurodegenerative diseases.


AKT/mTOR pathway; Apoptosis; Cadmium; Mitochondrial apoptotic pathway; PC12 cells; Primary rat cerebral cortical neurons

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