Upregulation of endothelial heme oxygenase-1 expression through the activation of the JNK pathway by sublethal concentrations of acrolein

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Acrolein is a highly electrophilic α,β-unsaturated aldehyde that is present in cigarette smoke. Heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1) is a cytoprotective enzyme activated by various such electrophilic compounds. In this study, the regulatory effects of acrolein upon the expression of HO-1 were investigated in endothelial cells (ECs). We demonstrate that acrolein induces the elevation of HO-1 protein levels, and subsequent enzyme activity, at non-cytotoxic concentrations. An additional α,β-unsaturated aldehyde, cinnamaldehyde, was also found to increase HO-1 expression and have less cytotoxicity than acrolein. Moreover, acrolein-mediated HO-1 induction is abrogated in the presence of actinomycin D and cycloheximide. Nrf2 is a transcription factor involved in the induction of HO-1 through an antioxidant response element (ARE) in the promoter region of the HO-1 gene. We show that acrolein induces Nrf2 translocation and ARE-luciferase reporter activity. Acrolein was also found to induce the production of both superoxide and H2O2 at levels greater than 100 μM. However, with the exception of NAC, no antioxidant generated any effect upon acrolein-dependent HO-1 expression in ECs. Our present findings suggest that reactive oxygen species (ROS) may not be a major modulator for HO-1 induction. Using buthionine sulfoximine to deplete the intracellular GSH levels further enhanced the effects of acrolein. We also found that cellular GSH level was rapidly reduced after both 10 and 100 μM acrolein treatment. However, after 6 h of exposure to ECs, only 10 μM acrolein treatment increases GSH level. In addition, only the JNK inhibitor SP600125 and tyrosine kinase inhibitor genistein had any significant inhibitory impact upon the upregulation of HO-1 by acrolein. Pretreatment with a range of other PI3 kinase inhibitors, including wortmannin and LY294002, showed no effects. Hence, we show in our current experiments that a sublethal concentration of acrolein is in fact a novel HO-1 inducer, and we further identify the principal underlying mechanisms involved in this process.

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