The purpose of the present work was to investigate the mechanisms by which glutathione depletion induced by treatment with buthionine sulfoximine (BSO) led within 24–30 h to PC 12 cells apoptosis.
Our results showed that treatment by relatively low concentrations (10–30 μM) of deferoxamine (DFx), a natural iron-specific chelator, almost completely shielded the cells from BSO-induced toxicity and that DFx still remained protective when added up to 9–12 h after BSO treatment.
On the other hand, phosphopeptides derived from milk casein and known to carry iron across cell membranes, markedly potentiated the toxic action of BSO when loaded with iron but were ineffective in sodium form.
Kept for 24 h in serum-free medium, the cells underwent a decrease in glutathione content after BSO treatment, but remained viable. However, these BSO-pre-treated cells showed a rapid (90–120 min) decrease in cell viability when incubated with low doses of iron, whereas a great proportion of them remained viable in the presence of higher concentrations of copper and zinc.
We also observed in PC 12 cells an early (4–8 h) and transient increase in the expression of ferritin subunits following BSO addition.
Taken together these results suggest that BSO-induced glutathione depletion leads to an alteration of cellular iron homeostasis, which may contribute to its toxicity.