Methamphetamine (METH) is an illicit psychoactive drug that can cause a variety of detrimental effects to the nervous system, especially dopaminergic pathways. We hypothesized that DNA damage-inducible transcript 4 (DDIT4) is involved in METH-induced dopaminergic neuronal autophagy and apoptosis. To test the hypothesis, we determined changes of DDIT4 protein expression and the level of autophagy in rat catecholaminergic PC12 cells and human dopaminergic SH-SY5Y cells, and in the hippocampus, prefrontal cortex, and striatum of Sprague Dawley rats exposed to METH. We also examined the effects of silencing DDIT4 expression on METH-induced dopaminergic neuronal autophagy using fluorescence microscopy and electron microscopy. Flow cytometry and Western blot were used to determine apoptosis and the expression of apoptotic markers (cleaved caspase-3 and cleaved PARP) after blocking DDIT4 expression in PC12 cells and SH-SY5Y cells with synthetic siRNA, as well as in the striatum of rats by injecting LV-shDDIT4 lentivirus using a stereotaxic positioning system. Our results showed that METH exposure increased DDIT4 expression that was accompanied with increased autophagy and apoptosis in PC12 cells (3 mM) and SH-SY5Y cells (2 mM), and in the hippocampus, prefrontal cortex, and striatum of rats. Inhibition of DDIT4 expression reduced METH-induced autophagy and apoptosis in vitro and in vivo. However, DDIT4-related effects were not observed at a low concentration of METH (1 μM). These results suggest that DDIT4 plays an essential role in METH-induced dopaminergic neuronal autophagy and apoptosis at higher doses and may be a potential gene target for therapeutics in high-dose METH-induced neurotoxicity.
Keywords: Apoptosis; Autophagy; DNA damage-inducible transcript 4 (DDIT4); Dopamine; Methamphetamine; Neurotoxicity.