Alteration of glutathione (GSH) homeostasis represents one of the earliest events during the commitment of stress-induced apoptosis. Extrusion of GSH into the extracellular milieu, in response to several oxidative stimuli, has been suggested as a molecular switch triggering apoptosis. However, chemical depletion of GSH does not induce cell death even though cytochrome c release from mitochondria has been observed. Here we report that U937 cells treated with buthionine sulfoximine (BSO) are able to survive and to inhibit the apoptotic program downstream of cytochrome c release. BSO treatment induces a highly significant decrease of GSH in both the cytosolic and mitochondrial fractions. The concomitant release of cytochrome c into the cytosol was associated with nuclear translocation of apoptosis-inducing factor. GSH depletion also resulted in reactive oxygen species production and in a specific increase of mitochondrial protein carbonyls. However, all these events were transiently present inside cells and efficiently counteracted by cell-repairing systems. We observed an increase in the proteasome activity and in the expression levels of heat shock protein 27 (Hsp27) and Hsp70. Moreover, nuclear factor-κB (NF-κB) was activated in our system as a survival cell response against the oxidative injury. Overall results suggest that activation of NF-κB and Hsp could allow cell adaptation and survival under exhaustive GSH depletion.
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