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Biochemical mechanism of irreversible cell injury caused by free radical-initiated reactions


Effects of oxidative stress on isolated rat ventricular myocytes were studied. Myocyte viability was determined by the ability of these cells to retain rod-shaped morphology and to exclude trypan blue. The mean life time of myocytes was quantitated using the Weibull distribution function. Superfusion with 200 μM tert-butyl hydroperoxide (t-BHP) led to a time-dependent loss of cell viability, generation of the products of lipid peroxidation, oxidation of protein and non-protein thiols, a decrease in [ATP]i and in the cellular energy charge. Dithiothreitol (DTT, 5 mM) prolonged survival of myocytes exposed to t-BHP, attenuated oxidation of protein and non-protein thiols, and preserved the energy charge. Exposure to DTT did not affect the concentration of t-BHP-generated lipid peroxidation products. Promethazine (1 μM) prevented t-BHP-induced increase in the concentration of lipid peroxidation products, but did not prevent either loss of thiols or loss of cell viability. Superfusion with N-ethylmaleimide (NEM, 5 μM) also led to loss of cell viability, with accompanying decreases in protein and non-protein thiols, ATP and energy charge without the accumulation of the products of lipid peroxidation. Superfusion with FeSO4 (400 μM) and ascorbate (1 mM), (Fe-Asc) did not result in loss of cell viability or a decrease protein thiols or the energy charge. Superfusion with Fe-Asc, did, however, lead to a slight decrease in the concentration of non-protein thiols and ATP and a large increase in the concentration of lipid peroxidation products. Accumulation of lipid peroxidation products induced by Fe-Asc was prevented by promethazine. These results indicate that free radical-induced irreversible cell injury results from a loss of protein thiols. Changes in the cellular energy charge and lipid peroxidation do not bear a simple relationship to the survival of cardiac myocytes under oxidative stress.

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Correspondence to Aruni Bhatnagar.

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Bhatnagar, A. Biochemical mechanism of irreversible cell injury caused by free radical-initiated reactions. Mol Cell Biochem 137, 9–16 (1994).

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Key words

  • free radicals
  • rat cardiac myocytes
  • N-ethylmaleimide
  • tert-butyl hydroperoxide
  • promethazine
  • lipid peroxidation
  • energy charge
  • and oxidative stress