Chronic oxidative stress induced by overexpression of the cytochrome P450 isoform 2E1 (CYP2E1) has been implicated in hepatocyte injury and death. However, the mechanism by which CYP2E1 overexpression may promote cell death is unknown. Acute oxidative stress activates mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPK), suggesting that chronic oxidant generation by CYP2E1 may regulate cellular responses through these signaling pathways. The effect of CYP2E1 overexpression on MAPK activation and their function in altering death responses of CYP2E1-overexpressing hepatocytes were investigated. Chronic CYP2E1 overexpression led to increased extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1/ 2 (ERK1/2) activation constitutively and in response to oxidant stress from the superoxide generator menadione. CYP2E1-overexpressing cells were resistant to menadione toxicity through an ERK1/2-dependent mechanism. Similar to menadione, the polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) arachidonic acid (AA) induced an increased activation of ERK1/2 in hepatocytes that overexpressed CYP2E1. However, CYP2E1-overexpressing cells were sensitized to necrotic death from AA and the PUFA γ-linolenic acid, but not from saturated or monounsaturated fatty acids. Death from PUFA resulted from oxidative stress and was blocked by inhibition of ERK1/2, but not p38 MAPK or activator protein-1 signaling. CYP2E1 expression induced ERK1/2 activation through increased epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR)/c-Raf signaling. Inhibition of EGFR signaling reversed CYP2E1-induced resistance to menadione and sensitization to AA toxicity. In conclusion, chronic CYP2E1 overexpression leads to sustained ERK1/2 activation mediated by EGFR/c-Raf signaling. This adaptive response in hepatocytes exposed to chronic oxidative stress confers differential effects on cellular survival, protecting against menadione-induced apoptosis, but sensitizing to necrotic death from PUFA.
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