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Toxicology. 1995 May 5;99(1-2):77-88.

On the effects of paraquat on isolated mitochondria. Evidence that paraquat causes opening of the cyclosporin A-sensitive permeability transition pore synergistically with nitric oxide.

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Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, University of Padova Medical School, Italy.


This paper reports an investigation on the effects of the bipyridylium herbicide, paraquat, on rat liver mitochondria in vitro. We show that paraquat induces a Ca(2+)-dependent permeability increase of the inner mitochondrial membrane leading to membrane depolarization, uncoupling and matrix swelling. The permeability increase is not observed in the absence of Ca2+ accumulation, and is not due to a direct effect of paraquat on the membrane energy level, as assessed by measurements of membrane potential, respiration and mitochondrial permeability to solutes at high concentrations of paraquat in the presence of excess ethylene-bis(oxoethylenenitrilo)tetraacetic acid (EGTA), a Ca2+ chelator. The Ca(2+)-dependent permeability increase is due to inappropriate opening of the endogenous permeability transition pore (MTP), a regulated, voltage-dependent channel of the inner mitochondrial membrane. The pore is primarily affected by paraquat through a shift of the gating potential to more negative values, allowing pore opening at physiological membrane potential. This effect apparently involves oxidation of a critical dithiol in the pore voltage sensor, while other regulatory aspects of the MTP (matrix pH and Ca2+) are unaffected by paraquat, which is not transported inside the mitochondrial matrix. The effects of paraquat on MTP opening depend on inhibition of electron transfer at Site I by rotenone, or by respiratory chain inhibition by nitric oxide, one of the proposed endogenous mediators of paraquat toxicity to the lung (Berisha, H.I., Hedayatollah, P., Absood, A., and Said, S.I. (1994) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 91, 7445-7449). Taken together, these data provide an additional biochemical mechanism by which paraquat may affect cell function, and support the idea that mitochondrial damage is an important determinant in paraquat toxicity (Hirai, K.-I., Ikeda, K., and Wang, G.-Y. (1992) Toxicology 72, 1-16).

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