Astrocytes provide nutritional support, regulate inflammation, and perform synaptic functions in the human brain. Although butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) is a well-known antioxidant, several studies in animals have indicated BHA-mediated liver toxicity, retardation in reproductive organ development and learning, and sleep deficit. However, the specific effects of BHA on human astrocytes and the underlying mechanisms are yet unclear. Here, we investigated the antigrowth effects of BHA through cell cycle arrest and downregulation of regulatory protein expression. The typical cell proliferative signaling pathways, phosphoinositide 3-kinase/protein kinase B and extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1/2, were downregulated in astrocytes after BHA treatment. BHA increased the levels of pro-apoptotic proteins, such as BAX, cytochrome c, cleaved caspase 3, and cleaved caspase 9, and decreased the level of anti-apoptotic protein BCL-XL. It also increased the cytosolic calcium level and the expression of endoplasmic reticulum stress proteins. Treatment with BAPTA-AM, a calcium chelator, attenuated the increased levels of ER stress proteins and cleaved members of the caspase family. We further performed an in vivo evaluation of the neurotoxic effect of BHA on zebrafish embryos and glial fibrillary acidic protein, a representative astrocyte biomarker, in a gfap:eGFP zebrafish transgenic model. Our results provide clear evidence of the potent cytotoxic effects of BHA on human astrocytes, which lead to disruption of the brain and nerve development.
Keywords: astrocytes; brain development; butylated hydroxyanisole; calcium imbalance; zebrafish.