Diesel exhaust particles (DEP) induce an early redox imbalance followed by an IL-6 mediated inflammatory response on human conjunctival epithelial cells

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The aim of this study was to evaluate the time course of oxidative stress markers and inflammatory mediators in human conjunctival epithelial cells (IOBA-NHC) exposed to diesel exhaust particles (DEP) for 1, 3, and 24 h.

Reactive oxygen species (ROS) production, lipid and protein oxidation, Nrf2 pathway activation, enzymatic antioxidants, glutathione (GSH) levels and synthesis, as well as cytokine release and cell proliferation were analyzed.

Cells exposed to DEP showed an increase in ROS at all time points. The induction of NADPH oxidase-4 appeared later than mitochondrial superoxide anion production, when the cell also underwent a proinflammatory response mediated by IL-6. DEP exposure triggered the activation of Nrf2 in IOBA-NHC, as a strategy for increasing cellular antioxidant capacity. Antioxidant enzyme activities were significantly increased at early stages except for glutathione reductase (GR) that showed a significant decrease after a 3-h-incubation. GSH levels were found increased after 1 and 3 h of incubation with DEP, despite the increase in its consumption by the antioxidant enzymes as it works as a cofactor. GSH recycling and the de novo synthesis were responsible for the maintenance of its content at these time points, respectively. After 24 h, the decrease in GR and glutamate cysteine ligase as wells as the enhanced activity of glutathione peroxidase and glutathione S-transferase produced a depletion in the GSH pool. Lipid-peroxidation was found increased in cells exposed to DEP after 1-h-incubation, whereas protein oxidation was found increased in cells exposed to DEP after a 3-h-incubation that persisted after a longer exposure. Furthermore, DEP lead IOBA-NHC cells to hyperplasia after 1 and 3 h of incubation, but a decrease in cell proliferation was found after longer exposure.

ROS production seems to be an earlier event triggered by DEP on IOBA-NHC, comparing to the proinflammatory response mediated by IL-6. Despite the fact that under short periods of exposure to DEP lipids and then proteins are targets of oxidative damage, the viability of the cells is not affected at early stages, since cell hyperplasia was detected as compensatory mechanism. Although after 24 h Nrf2 pathway is still enhanced, the epithelial cell capacity to maintain redox balance is exceeded. The antioxidant enzymes activation and the depleted GSH pool are not capable of counteracting the increased ROS production, leading to oxidative damage.

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