Triggering of Suicidal Erythrocyte Death by the Antibiotic Ionophore Nigericin

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The K+,H+ ionophore and antibiotic nigericin has been shown to trigger apoptosis and is thus considered for the treatment of malignancy. Cellular mechanisms involved include induction of oxidative stress, which is known to activate erythrocytic Ca2+-permeable unselective cation channels leading to Ca2+ entry, increase in cytosolic Ca2+ activity ([Ca2+]i) and subsequent stimulation of eryptosis, the suicidal erythrocyte death characterized by cell shrinkage and cell membrane scrambling with phosphatidylserine translocation to the erythrocyte surface. This study explored whether and how nigericin induces eryptosis. Phosphatidylserine exposure at the cell surface was estimated from annexin V binding, cell volume from forward scatter, [Ca2+]i from Fluo3 fluorescence, pHi from BCECF fluorescence, ceramide abundance utilizing antibodies and reactive oxygen species (ROS) formation from DCFDA-dependent fluorescence. A 48-hr exposure of human erythrocytes to nigericin significantly increased the percentage of annexin-V-binding cells (0.1–10 nM), significantly decreased forward scatter (0.1–1 nM), significantly decreased cytosolic pH (0.1–1 nM) and significantly increased Fluo3 fluorescence (0.1–10 nM). Nigericin (1 nM) slightly, but significantly, increased ROS, but did not significantly modify ceramide abundance. The effect of nigericin on annexin V binding was significantly blunted, but not abolished by removal of extracellular Ca2+. The nigericin-induced increase in [Ca2+]i and annexin V binding was again significantly blunted but not abolished by the Na+/H+ exchanger inhibitor cariporide (10 μM). Nigericin triggers eryptosis, an effect paralleled by ROS formation, in part dependent on stimulation of Ca2+ entry, and involving the cariporide-sensitive Na+/H+ exchanger.

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