Mitochondrial glutathione (GSH) is a key endogenous antioxidant and its maintenance is critical for cell survival. Here, we generated stable NSC34 motor neuron-like cell lines over-expressing the mitochondrial GSH transporter, the 2-oxoglutarate carrier (OGC), to further elucidate the importance of mitochondrial GSH transport in determining neuronal resistance to oxidative stress. Two stable OGC cell lines displayed specific increases in mitochondrial GSH content and resistance to oxidative and nitrosative stressors, but not staurosporine. Inhibition of transport through OGC reduced levels of mitochondrial GSH and resensitized the stable cell lines to oxidative stress. The stable OGC cell lines displayed significant up-regulation of the anti-apoptotic protein, B cell lymphoma 2 (Bcl-2). This result was reproduced in parental NSC34 cells by chronic treatment with GSH monoethylester, which specifically increased mitochondrial GSH levels. Knockdown of Bcl-2 expression decreased mitochondrial GSH and resensitized the stable OGC cells to oxidative stress. Finally, endogenous OGC was co-immunoprecipitated with Bcl-2 from rat brain lysates in a GSH-dependent manner. These data are the first to show that increased mitochondrial GSH transport is sufficient to enhance neuronal resistance to oxidative stress. Moreover, sustained and specific enhancement of mitochondrial GSH leads to increased Bcl-2 expression, a required mechanism for the maintenance of increased mitochondrial GSH levels.
Stable over-expression of the 2-oxoglutarate carrier (OGC) in a motor neuronal cell line induced a specific increase in mitochondrial GSH and markedly enhanced resistance to oxidative stress. Over-expression of OGC also induced Bcl-2 expression which was owing to the specific increase in mitochondrial GSH. Intriguingly, enhanced expression of Bcl-2 was required to sustain OGC-dependent GSH transport into the mitochondria. Thus, OGC and Bcl-2 work in a concerted manner to maintain the mitochondrial GSH pool which is crucial for neuronal survival.