Toxicity of azathioprine and monocrotaline in murine sinusoidal endothelial cells and hepatocytes: the role of glutathione and relevance to hepatic venoocclusive disease

Hepatology. 1996 Mar;23(3):589-99. doi: 10.1002/hep.510230326.


The mechanisms leading to hepatic venoocclusive disease (HVOD) remain largely unknown. Azathioprine and monocrotaline were studied as part of a series of studies looking at a variety of toxins that induce HVOD to find common features that might be of pathogenic significance. In a previous study, dacarbazine showed selective in vitro toxicity to sinusoidal endothelial cells (SEC) compared with hepatocytes and a key role for SEC glutathione (GSH) was demonstrated. Murine SEC and hepatocytes were isolated and studied in culture. Azathioprine and monocrotaline were found to be selectively more toxic to SEC than to hepatocytes. The relative resistance of hepatocytes to azathioprine was due to enhanced GSH defense: hepatocytes exposed to azathioprine maintained intracellular GSH levels better than SEC, particularly when supplemental GSH precursors were added, and hepatocyte resistance was completely overcome by depletion of intracellular GSH. In contrast, monocrotaline toxicity in hepatocytes was largely unaffected by depletion of GSH, which suggests that selectivity of monocrotaline for SEC may be attributable to differences in metabolic activation. Both compounds are detoxified by GSH in SEC, as demonstrated by enhanced toxicity in the presence of buthionine sulfoximine (BSO) and attenuation of toxicity with exogenous GSH. SEC GSH levels were more than 70% to 80% depleted by monocrotaline and azathioprine, respectively, before cell death. Azathioprine and monocrotaline are selectively toxic to SEC; the mechanism of toxicity in the SEC may be caused by profound GSH depletion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Azathioprine / pharmacokinetics
  • Azathioprine / toxicity*
  • Buthionine Sulfoximine
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Endothelium / drug effects
  • Endothelium / pathology
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Glutamate-Cysteine Ligase / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Glutathione / metabolism
  • Glutathione / physiology*
  • Hepatic Veno-Occlusive Disease / metabolism*
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / pharmacokinetics
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / toxicity*
  • Inactivation, Metabolic
  • Liver / drug effects*
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Liver / pathology
  • Methionine Sulfoximine / analogs & derivatives
  • Methionine Sulfoximine / pharmacology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C3H
  • Monocrotaline / pharmacokinetics
  • Monocrotaline / toxicity*


  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Immunosuppressive Agents
  • Methionine Sulfoximine
  • Buthionine Sulfoximine
  • Monocrotaline
  • Glutamate-Cysteine Ligase
  • Glutathione
  • Azathioprine