Cadmium-induced activation of stress signaling pathways, disruption of ubiquitin-dependent protein degradation and apoptosis in primary rat Sertoli cell-gonocyte cocultures

Toxicol Sci. 2008 Aug;104(2):385-96. doi: 10.1093/toxsci/kfn087. Epub 2008 May 6.


Cadmium (Cd) is a ubiquitous environmental pollutant that has been associated with male reproductive toxicity in both humans and animal models. The underlying mechanism of this response, however, is still uncharacterized. To address this issue, we employed a recently developed and optimized three-dimensional primary Sertoli cell-gonocyte coculture system and examined the time- and dose-dependent effects of Cd on morphological alterations, cell viability, activation of stress signaling pathway proteins, and the disruption of the ubiquitin proteasome system (UPS). Our results demonstrated that Cd exposure lead to time- and dose-dependent morphological changes that are associated with the induction of apoptosis. In response to Cd, we also saw a disruption of the UPS as evaluated through the accumulation of high-molecular weight polyubiquitinated proteins (HMW-polyUb) as well as alterations in proteasome activity. Robust activation of cellular stress response, measured through the increased phosphorylation of stress-activated protein kinase/c-jun N-terminal kinase and p38, paralleled the accumulation of HMW-polyUb. In addition, p53, a key regulatory protein, was upregulated and underwent increased ubiquitination in response to Cd. To further characterize the role of the UPS in Cd cellular response, we compared the above changes with two classic proteasomal inhibitors, lactacystin, and MG132. The stress response and the accumulation of HWM-polyUb induced by Cd were consistent with the response seen with MG132 but not with lactacystin. In addition, Cd treatment resulted in a dose- and time-dependent effect on proteasome activity, but the overall Cd-induced proteasomal inhibition was unique as compared to MG132 and lactacystin. Taken together, our studies further characterize Cd-induced in vitro testicular toxicity and highlight the potential role of the UPS in this response.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcysteine / analogs & derivatives
  • Acetylcysteine / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Cadmium Compounds / toxicity*
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Coculture Techniques
  • Cysteine Proteinase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Leupeptins / pharmacology
  • Male
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects*
  • Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex / drug effects
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Sertoli Cells / drug effects*
  • Sertoli Cells / metabolism
  • Sertoli Cells / pathology
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects*
  • Spermatogonia / drug effects*
  • Spermatogonia / metabolism
  • Spermatogonia / pathology
  • Ubiquitins / metabolism


  • Cadmium Compounds
  • Cysteine Proteinase Inhibitors
  • Leupeptins
  • Ubiquitins
  • lactacystin
  • Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex
  • benzyloxycarbonylleucyl-leucyl-leucine aldehyde
  • Acetylcysteine