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Arch Biochem Biophys. 1989 Jul;272(1):152-61.

Intracellular acidosis protects cultured hepatocytes from the toxic consequences of a loss of mitochondrial energization.

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Department of Pathology and Cell Biology, Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19107.


Cultured rat hepatocytes were treated with potassium cyanide, an inhibitor of cytochrome oxidase; valinomycin, a K+ ionophore; carbonyl cyanide m-chlorophenylhydrazone (CCCP), a protonophore; and the ATP synthetase inhibitor oligomycin. The effect of these agents on the viability of the cells was related to changes in ATP content and the deenergization of the mitochondria. The ATP content was reduced by over 90% by each inhibitor. All of the agents except oligomycin killed the cells within 4 h. With the exception of oligomycin, the mitochondrial membrane potential as measured by the distribution of [3H]triphenylmethylphosphonium collapsed with each of the agents. Monensin, a H+/Na+ ionophore, potentiated the toxicity of cyanide and CCCP, whereas the toxicity of valinomycin was reduced. The effect of cyanide and monesin on the cytoplasmic pH of cultured hepatocytes was measured with the fluorescent probe, 2',7'-biscarboxyethyl-5,6-carboxyfluorescein. Cyanide promptly acidified the cytosol, and the addition of 10 microM monensin caused a rapid alkalinization of the cytosol. A reduction of pH of the culture medium from 7.4 to 6.6 and 6.0 prevented the cell killing both by cyanide alone and by cyanide in the presence of monensin. However, neither monensin nor extracellular acidosis had any effect on the loss of mitochondrial energization in the presence of cyanide. It is concluded that ATP depletion per se is insufficient to explain the cell killing with cyanide, CCCP, and valinomycin. Rather, cell killing is better correlated with a loss of mitochondrial energization. With cyanide an intracellular acidosis interferes with the mechanism that couples collapse of the mitochondrial membrane potential to lethal cell injury.

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