Etoposide (VP-16) is known to promote cell apoptosis either in cancer or in normal cells as a side effect. This fact is preceded by the induction of several mitochondrial events, including increase in Bax/Bcl-2 ratio followed by cytochrome c release and consequent activation of caspase-9 and -3, reduction of ATP levels, depolarization of membrane potential (ΔΨ) and rupture of the outer membrane. These events are apoptotic factors essentially associated with the induction of the mitochondrial permeability transition (MPT). VP-16 has been shown to stimulate the Ca2+-dependent MPT induction similarly to prooxidants and to promote apoptosis by oxidative stress mechanisms, which is prevented by glutathione (GSH) and N-acetylcysteine (NAC). Therefore, the aim of this work was to study the effects of antioxidants and thiol protecting agents on MPT promoted by VP-16, attempting to identify the underlying mechanisms on VP-16-induced apoptosis. The increased sensitivity of isolated mitochondria to Ca2+-induced swelling, Ca2+release, depolarization of ΔΨ and uncoupling of respiration promoted by VP-16, which are prevented by cyclosporine A proving that VP-16 induces the MPT, are also efficiently prevented by ascorbate, the primary reductant of the phenoxyl radicals produced by VP-16. The thiol reagents GSH, dithiothreitol and N-ethylmaleimide, which have been reported to prevent the MPT induction, also protect this event promoted by VP-16. The inhibition of the VP-16-induced MPT by antioxidants agrees with the prevention of etoposide-induced apoptosis by GSH and NAC and suggests the generation of oxidant species as a potential mechanism underlying the MPT that may trigger the release of mitochondrial apoptogenic factors responsible for apoptotic cascade activation. © 2002 Elsevier Science Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.
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