Although oxidative stress is fundamental to the etiopathology of Parkinson disease, the signaling molecules involved in transduction after oxidant exposure to cell death are ill-defined, thus making it difficult to identify molecular targets of therapeutic relevance. We have addressed this question in human dopaminergic neuroblastoma SH-SY5Y cells exposed to the parkinsonian toxin paraquat (PQ). This toxin elicited a dose-dependent increase in reactive oxygen species and cell death that correlated with activation of ASK1 and the stress kinases p38 and JNK. The relevance of these kinases in channeling PQ neurotoxicity was demonstrated with the use of interference RNA for ASK1 and two well-established pharmaceutical inhibitors for JNK and p38. The toxic effect of PQ was substantially attenuated by preincubation with vitamin E, blocking ASK1 pathways and preventing oxidative stress and cell death. In a search for a physiological pathway that might counterbalance PQ-induced ASK1 activation, we analyzed the role of the transcription factor Nrf2, master regulator of redox homeostasis, and its target thioredoxin (Trx), which binds and inhibits ASK1. Trx levels were undetectable in Nrf2-deficient mouse embryo fibroblasts (MEFs), whereas they were constitutively high in Keap1-deficient MEFs as well as in SH-SY5Y cells treated with sulforaphane (SFN). Consistent with these data, Nrf2-deficient MEFs were more sensitive and Keap1-deficient MEFs and SH-SY5Y cells incubated with SFN were more resistant to PQ-induced cell death. This study identifies ASK1/JNK and ASK1/p38 as two critical pathways involved in the activation of cell death under oxidative stress conditions and identifies the Nrf2/Trx axis as a new target to block these pathways and protect from oxidant exposure such as that found in Parkinson and other neurodegenerative diseases.
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