Acquisition of apoptotic resistance in cadmium-induced malignant transformation: Specific perturbation of JNK signal transduction pathway and associated metallothionein overexpression

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Prior work has shown that chronic cadmium exposed rat liver epithelial cells (CCE-LE) become malignantly transformed after protracted low level cadmium exposure. Acquisition of apoptotic resistance is common in oncogenesis and the present work explores this possibility in CCE-LE cells. CCE-LE cells were resistant to apoptosis induced by etoposide or an acute high concentration of cadmium as assessed by flow cytometry with annexin/FITC. Three key mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs), namely ERK1/2, JNK1/2, and p38, were phosphorylated in CCE-LE cells after acute cadmium exposure. However, the levels of phosphorylated JNK1/2 were markedly decreased in CCE-LE cells compared to control. JNK kinase activity was also suppressed in CCE-LE cells exposed to cadmium. Epidermal growth factor (EGF), used as a positive control for stimulating JNK phosphorylation, was much less effective in CCE-LE cells than control cells. Ro318220 (Ro), a strong activator of JNK, increased phosphorylated JNK1/2 to levels similar to the cadmium-treated control cells and also enhanced apoptosis in response to cadmium in CCE-LE cells. Metallothionein (MT), which is thought to potentially inhibit apoptosis, was strongly overexpressed in CCE-LE cells. Further, in MT knockout (MT−/−) fibroblasts, JNK1/2 phosphorylation was markedly increased after cadmium exposure compared with similarly treated wild-type (MT+/+) cells. These results indicate cadmium-transformed cells acquired apoptotic resistance, which may be linked to the specific suppression of the JNK pathway and is associated with MT overexpression, which, in turn, may impact this signal transduction pathway. The acquisition of apoptotic resistance may play an important role in cadmium carcinogenesis by contributing to both tumor initiation and malignant progression. Published 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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