Activation of protein kinase C and disruption of endothelial monolayer integrity by sodium arsenite—Potential mechanism in the development of atherosclerosis

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Arsenic exposure has been shown to exacerbate atherosclerosis, beginning with activation of the endothelium that lines the vessel wall. Endothelial barrier integrity is maintained by proteins of the adherens junction (AJ) such as vascular endothelial cadherin (VE-cadherin) and β-catenin and their association with the actin cytoskeleton. In the present study, human aortic endothelial cells (HAECs) were exposed to 1, 5 and 10 μM sodium arsenite [As(III)] for 1, 6, 12 and 24 h, and the effects on endothelial barrier integrity were determined. Immunofluorescence studies revealed formation of actin stress fibers and non-uniform VE-cadherin and β-catenin staining at cell–cell junctions that were concentration- and time-dependent. Intercellular gaps were observed with a measured increase in endothelial permeability. In addition, concentration-dependent increases in tyrosine phosphorylation (PY) of β-catenin and activation of protein kinase Cα (PKCα) were observed. Inhibition of PKCα restored VE-cadherin and β-catenin staining at cell–cell junctions and abolished the As(III)-induced formation of actin stress fibers and intercellular gaps. Endothelial permeability and PY of β-catenin were also reduced to basal levels. These results demonstrate that As(III) induces activation of PKCα, which leads to increased PY of β-catenin downstream of PKCα activation. Phosphorylation of β-catenin plausibly severs the association of VE-cadherin and β-catenin, which along with formation of actin stress fibers, results in intercellular gap formation and increased endothelial permeability. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first report demonstrating that As(III) causes a loss of endothelial monolayer integrity, which potentially could contribute to the development of atherosclerosis.

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