The chemoprotective agent N-acetylcysteine blocks cisplatin-induced apoptosis through caspase signaling pathway

Y. Jeffrey Wu, Leslie L. Muldoon, Edward A. Neuwelt

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172 Scopus citations


Thiols such as N-acetylcysteine (NAC) are increasingly used in clinical trials of platinum chemotherapy as chemoprotectants. NAC can prevent cisdiamminedichloroplatinum (cisplatin)-induced ototoxicity, nephrotoxicity, and gastrointestinal toxicity; however, the molecular mechanisms of NAC on apoptosis and cisplatin cytotoxicity remain unknown. We investigated cisplatin cytotoxicity and NAC chemoprotection in human tumor cell lines, as assessed by immunoblotting and immunocytochemistry. Cisplatin cytotoxicity was associated with nuclear translocation of apoptosis induction factor, expression of the pro-apoptotic Bax protein, cleavage of caspases 3 and 9, and cleavage of PARP. NAC administration reversed the cytotoxic and apoptotic effects if added concurrent with cisplatin or up to 2 h after cisplatin, but chemoprotection was reduced if NAC administration was delayed more than 2 h and was minimal by 8 h after cisplatin. Expression of tumor suppressor p53 and the cell cycle regulatory protein p21 was stimulated within 5 to 10 min by cisplatin in p53-positive LX-1 small cell lung carcinoma cells, and this effect was blocked by NAC. In p53-negative SKOV3 cells, cisplatin toxicity and NAC chemoprotection remained effective, suggesting that chemoprotection may be mediated through both p53-dependent and -independent pathways. Specific kinase inhibitors demonstrated that cisplatin induced apoptosis through the p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathway, not the extracellular signal-regulated kinase MAPK pathway. These results show that NAC blocks both the death receptor and the mitochondrial apoptotic pathways induced by cisplatin. The time course for NAC chemoprotection after cisplatin matches our previous in vivo results and provides an opportunity to manipulate route and timing to maintain cisplatin antitumor efficacy while protecting against chemotherapy side effects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)424-431
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Pharmacology


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