Cadmium is an important environmental toxicant that can kill cells. A number of studies have implicated apoptosis as well as necrosis and, most recently, a form of programmed necrosis termed necroptosis in the process of cadmium-mediated toxicity, but the exact mechanism remains ill-defined and may depend on the affected cell type. This study investigated which mode of cell death may be responsible for cell death induction in cadmium-exposed trout cell lines from gill and liver and if this cell death was sensitive to inhibitors of necroptosis or apoptosis, respectively. It was observed that intermediate levels of cadmium that killed approximately 50% of the cells over 96-120h of exposure caused cell death that morphologically resembled apoptosis and was associated with an increase of apoptotic markers such as the number of cells with diminished DNA content (sub-G1 cells), condensed or fragmented nuclei, and elevation of caspase-3 activity. At the same time, however, cells also lost plasma membrane integrity, as indicated by uptake of propidium iodide, showed a decrease of ATP levels and mitochondrial membrane potential, and displayed cell swelling, signs associated with secondary necrosis, or equally possible, necroptotic cell death. Importantly, many of these alterations were at least partly inhibited by the necroptosis inhibitor necrostatin-1 and were to a lesser extent also sensitive to the pan-caspase inhibitor zVAD-fmk, indicating that multiple modes of cell death are concurrently induced in cadmium-exposed trout cells, including necroptosis and apoptosis. Cell death appeared to lack concurrent radical formation, consistent with genetically regulated necroptotic cell death, but was characterized by the rapid induction of DNA damage markers, and the early onset of disintegration of the Golgi complex. Comparative experiments evaluating copper-toxicity indicated that in comparison to cadmium much higher concentrations of this metal were required to induce cell death and that neither necrostatin-1 nor a pan-caspase inhibitor conferred protection, suggesting that additional modes of cell death can be triggered in response to poisoning with heavy metals.
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