Mechanisms of tolvaptan-induced toxicity in HepG2 cells

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Tolvaptan, a vasopressin receptor 2 antagonist used to treat hyponatremia, has recently been reported to be associated with an increased risk of liver injury. In this study, we explored the underlying mechanisms of hepatotoxicity of tolvaptan using human HepG2 cells. Tolvaptan inhibited cell growth and caused cell death in a concentration- and time-dependent manner. Tolvaptan treatment led to delayed cell cycle progression, accompanied by decreased levels of several cyclins and cyclin-dependent kinases. Tolvaptan was found to cause DNA damage, as assessed by alkaline comet assays; this was confirmed by increased levels of 8-oxoguanine and phosphorylation of histone H2AX. Exposure of HepG2 cells to tolvaptan enhanced cytochrome C release and triggered apoptosis by modulating Bcl-2 family members. The activation of p38 contributed to tolvaptan-mediated apoptosis via down-regulation of Bcl-2. Proteasome inhibition altered tolvaptan-induced cell cycle deregulation and enhanced tolvaptan-induced apoptosis and cytotoxicity. Moreover, tolvaptan treatment induced autophagy. Inhibition of autophagy by knocking-down an autophagy-related gene increased tolvaptan-induced apoptosis and cytotoxicity. Taken together, our findings suggest that the cytotoxicity of tolvaptan results from delayed cell cycle progression, the induction of DNA damage, and the execution of apoptosis. In addition, a number of signaling pathways were perturbed by tolvaptan and played an important role in its cytotoxicity.

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