Mitochondrial superoxide mediates doxorubicin-induced keratinocyte apoptosis through oxidative modification of ERK and Bcl-2 ubiquitination

Biochem Pharmacol. 2012 Jun 15;83(12):1643-54. doi: 10.1016/j.bcp.2012.03.010. Epub 2012 Mar 24.


Massive apoptosis of keratinocytes has been implicated in the pathogenesis of chemotherapy-induced skin toxicities, but the underlying mechanisms of action are not well understood. The present study investigated the apoptotic effect of doxorubicin (DOX) on HaCaT keratinocytes and determined the underlying mechanisms. Treatment of the cells with DOX induced reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation and a concomitant increase in apoptotic cell death through the mitochondrial death pathway independent of p53. Electron spin resonance and flow cytometry studies showed that superoxide is the primary oxidative species induced by DOX and responsible for the death inducing effect. Ectopic expression of mitochondrial superoxide scavenging enzyme (MnSOD) or treatment with MnSOD mimetic (MnTBAP) inhibited DOX-induced superoxide generation and apoptosis. The mechanism by which superoxide mediates the apoptotic effect of DOX was shown to involve downregulation of Bcl-2 through ubiquitin-proteasomal degradation. Superoxide induces dephosphorylation of Bcl-2 through MAP kinase ERK1/2 inactivation, which promotes ubiquitination of Bcl-2. We also provide evidence for the oxidative modification of ERK1/2 through cysteine sulfenic acid formation. These findings indicate a novel pathway for redox regulation of apoptosis regulatory proteins, which could be important in the understanding of chemotherapy-induced toxicities and development of preventive treatment strategies which are currently lacking.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Cell Line
  • Doxorubicin / pharmacology*
  • Electron Spin Resonance Spectroscopy
  • Extracellular Signal-Regulated MAP Kinases / metabolism*
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Humans
  • Keratinocytes / cytology
  • Keratinocytes / drug effects*
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / metabolism*
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Superoxides / metabolism*
  • Ubiquitination


  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Superoxides
  • Doxorubicin
  • Extracellular Signal-Regulated MAP Kinases