Differences of lipid membrane modulation and oxidative stress by digoxin and 21-benzylidene digoxin

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Cardiotonic steroids (CTS) are compounds which bind to the Na,K-ATPase, leading to its inhibition and in some cases initiating signaling cascades. Long utilized as a treatment for congestive heart disease, CTS have more recently been observed to inhibit proliferation and cause apoptosis in several cancer cell lines. A synthetic derivative of the CTS digoxin, called 21-benzylidene digoxin (21-BD), activates the Na,K-ATPase rather than cause its inhibition, as its parent compound does. Here, the mechanism behind the unique effects of 21-BD are further explored. In HeLa cancer cells, low (5 μM) and high (50 μM) doses of 21-BD activated and inhibited the Na,K-ATPase, respectively, without altering the membrane expression of the Na,K-ATPase. While digoxin did not affect HeLa membrane cholesterol or phospholipid content, 50 μM 21-BD increased both lipids via a mechanism reliant on an intact cell. Afterwards, the direct action of 21-BD was evaluated on erythrocyte membranes; however, no effect was observed. As CTS may generate reactive oxygen species (ROS) which can affect plasma membrane fluidity and therefore Na,K-ATPase activity, several markers involved in ROS generation were analyzed such as, lipid peroxidation (TBARS), reduced glutathione (GSH), catalase (CAT) and superoxide dismutase (SOD). GSH content and catalase activity were unaffected by digoxin or 21-BD. Surprisingly, TBARS and SOD activity was decreased with digoxin and with 50 μM 21-BD. Thus, 21-BD and digoxin altered components involved in ROS generation and inhibition in a similar fashion. This study suggests alterations to the Na,K-ATPase and membrane lipids by 21-BD is not reliant on ROS generation.

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