Stabilization of superoxide dismutase by acetyl-l-carnitine in human brain endothelium during alcohol exposure: novel protective approach

Free Radic Biol Med. 2011 Oct 15;51(8):1601-9. doi: 10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2011.06.020. Epub 2011 Jun 28.


Oxidative damage of the endothelium disrupts the integrity of the blood-brain barrier (BBB). We have shown before that alcohol exposure increases the levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS; superoxide and hydroxyl radical) and nitric oxide (NO) in brain endothelial cells by activating NADPH oxidase and inducible nitric oxide synthase. We hypothesize that impairment of antioxidant systems, such as a reduction in catalase and superoxide dismutase (SOD) activity, by ethanol exposure may elevate the levels of ROS/NO in endothelium, resulting in BBB damage. This study examines whether stabilization of antioxidant enzyme activity results in suppression of ROS levels by anti-inflammatory agents. To address this idea, we determined the effects of ethanol on the kinetic profile of SOD and catalase activity and ROS/NO generation in primary human brain endothelial cells (hBECs). We observed an enhanced production of ROS and NO levels due to the metabolism of ethanol in hBECs. Similar increases were found after exposure of hBECs to acetaldehyde, the major metabolite of ethanol. Ethanol simultaneously augmented ROS generation and the activity of antioxidative enzymes. SOD activity was increased for a much longer period of time than catalase activity. A decline in SOD activity and protein levels preceded elevation of oxidant levels. SOD stabilization by the antioxidant and mitochondria-protecting agent acetyl-L-carnitine (ALC) and the anti-inflammatory agent rosiglitazone suppressed ROS levels, with a marginal increase in NO levels. Mitochondrial membrane protein damage and decreased membrane potential after ethanol exposure indicated mitochondrial injury. These changes were prevented by ALC. Our findings suggest the counteracting mechanisms of oxidants and antioxidants during alcohol-induced oxidative stress at the BBB. The presence of enzymatic stabilizers favors the ROS-neutralizing antioxidant redox of the BBB, suggesting an underlying protective mechanism of NO for brain vascular tone and vasodilation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Acetaldehyde / metabolism
  • Acetylcarnitine / pharmacology*
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / pharmacology
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / drug effects*
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / pathology
  • Brain / pathology
  • Catalase / metabolism*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Endothelial Cells / drug effects*
  • Endothelial Cells / metabolism
  • Endothelial Cells / pathology
  • Ethanol / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Nitric Oxide / metabolism
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Rosiglitazone
  • Superoxide Dismutase / metabolism*
  • Thiazolidinediones / pharmacology


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Thiazolidinediones
  • Rosiglitazone
  • Nitric Oxide
  • Ethanol
  • Acetylcarnitine
  • Catalase
  • Superoxide Dismutase
  • Acetaldehyde