Butylhydroquinone protects cells genetically deficient in glutathione biosynthesis from arsenite-induced apoptosis without significantly changing their prooxidant status

Toxicol Sci. 2005 Oct;87(2):365-84. doi: 10.1093/toxsci/kfi253. Epub 2005 Jul 13.


Arsenic, first among the top environmentally hazardous substances, is associated with skin, lung, liver, kidney, prostate, and bladder cancer. Arsenic is also a cardiovascular and a central nervous system toxicant, and it has genotoxic and immunotoxic effects. Paradoxically, arsenic trioxide is used successfully in the treatment of acute promyelocytic leukemia and multiple myeloma. Arsenic induces oxidative stress, and its toxicity is decreased by free thiols and increased by glutathione depletion. To further characterize the role of glutathione and oxidative stress in the toxicity of arsenic, we have used fetal fibroblasts from Gclm(-/-) mice, which lack the modifier subunit of glutamate-cysteine ligase, the rate-limiting enzyme in glutathione biosynthesis. Gclm(-/-) mouse embryo fibroblasts (MEFs) are eight times more sensitive to arsenite-induced apoptotic death. Because of a dramatic decrease in glutathione levels, Gclm(-/-) MEFs have a high prooxidant status that is not significantly relieved by treatment with the phenolic antioxidant tBHQ; however, tBHQ blocks arsenite-induced apoptosis in both Gclm(+/+) and Gclm(-/-) cells, although it raises a significant antioxidant response only in Gclm(+/+) cells. Global gene expression profiles indicate that tBHQ is significantly effective in reversing arsenite-induced gene deregulation in Gclm(+/+) but not in Gclm(-/-) MEFs. This effect of tBHQ is evident in the expression of metalloproteases and chaperones, and in the expression of genes involved in DNA damage and repair, protein biosynthesis, cell growth and maintenance, apoptosis, and cell cycle regulation. These results suggest that regulation of glutathione levels by GCLM determines the sensitivity to arsenic-induced apoptosis by setting the overall ability of the cells to mount an effective antioxidant response.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Arsenites / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Arsenites / toxicity*
  • Blotting, Western
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Cells, Cultured
  • DNA, Complementary / biosynthesis
  • Electrophoretic Mobility Shift Assay
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation / drug effects
  • Glutamate-Cysteine Ligase / metabolism
  • Glutathione / biosynthesis*
  • Hydroquinones / pharmacology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • NF-kappa B / metabolism
  • Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis
  • Oxidants / metabolism*
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects
  • RNA / biosynthesis
  • RNA / isolation & purification
  • Tetrazolium Salts
  • Thiazoles


  • Arsenites
  • DNA, Complementary
  • Hydroquinones
  • NF-kappa B
  • Oxidants
  • Tetrazolium Salts
  • Thiazoles
  • RNA
  • 2-tert-butylhydroquinone
  • Glutamate-Cysteine Ligase
  • thiazolyl blue
  • Glutathione
  • arsenite