Curcumin alleviates arsenic-induced toxicity in PC12 cells via modulating autophagy/apoptosis

Ecotoxicol Environ Saf. 2020 Sep 1;200:110756. doi: 10.1016/j.ecoenv.2020.110756. Epub 2020 May 25.


Arsenic is a recognized highly toxic contaminant, responsible for numerous human diseases and affecting many millions of people in different parts of the world. Contrarily, curcumin is a natural dietary polyphenolic compound and the main active ingredient in turmeric. Recently it has drawn great attention due to its diverse biological activities, strong antioxidant properties and therapeutic potential against many human ailments. In this study, we aimed to explore the protective effects and the regulatory role of curcumin on arsenic-induced toxicity and gain insights into biomolecular mechanism/s. Arsenic (10 μM) treatment in PC12 cells for 24 h induced cytotoxicity by decreasing cell viability and intracellular glutathione level and increasing lactate dehydrogenase activity and DNA fragmentation. In addition, arsenic caused apoptotic cell death in PC12 cells, which were confirmed from flow cytometry results. Moreover, arsenic (10 μM) treatment significantly down-regulated the inhibition factors of autophagy/apoptosis; mTOR, Akt, Nrf2, ERK1, Bcl-x, Xiap protein expressions, up-regulated the enhanced factors of autophagy/apoptosis; ULK, LC3, p53, Bax, cytochrome c, caspase 9, cleaved caspase 3 proteins and eventually caused autophagic and apoptotic cell death. However, curcumin (2.5 μM) pretreatment with arsenic (10 μM) effectively saves PC12 cells against arsenic-induced cytotoxicity through increasing cell viability, intracellular GSH level and boosting the antioxidant defense system, and limiting the LDH activity and DNA damage. Furthermore, pretreatment of curcumin with arsenic expressively alleviated arsenic-induced toxicity and cell death by reversing the expressions of proteins; mTOR, Akt, Nrf2, ERK1, Bcl-x, Xiap, ULK, LC3, p53, Bax, cytochrome c, caspase 9 and cleaved caspase 3. Our findings indicated that curcumin showed antioxidant properties through the Nrf2 antioxidant signaling pathway and alleviates arsenic-triggered toxicity in PC12 cells by regulating autophagy/apoptosis.

Keywords: Antioxidant; Arsenic; Curcumin; Cytoprotection; Cytotoxicity; Glutathione.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antioxidants / metabolism
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Arsenic / toxicity*
  • Autophagy / drug effects*
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Curcumin / pharmacology*
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Glutathione / metabolism
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2 / metabolism
  • PC12 Cells
  • Rats
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects


  • Antioxidants
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2
  • Nfe2l2 protein, rat
  • Glutathione
  • Curcumin
  • Arsenic