Myoglobin toxicity in proximal human kidney cells: roles of Fe, Ca2+, H2O2, and terminal mitochondrial electron transport

Kidney Int. 1997 Mar;51(3):728-38. doi: 10.1038/ki.1997.104.


The purpose of this study was to gain direct insights into mechanisms by which myoglobin induces proximal tubular cell death. To avoid confounding systemic and hemodynamic influences, an in vitro model of myoglobin cytotoxicity was employed. Human proximal tubular (HK-2) cells were incubated with 10 mg/ml myoglobin, and after 24 hours the lethal cell injury was assessed (vital dye uptake; LDH release). The roles played by heme oxygenase (HO), cytochrome p450, free iron, intracellular Ca2+, nitric oxide, H2O2, hydroxyl radical (-OH), and mitochondrial electron transport were assessed. HO inhibition (Sn protoporphyrin) conferred almost complete protection against myoglobin cytotoxicity (92% vs. 22% cell viability). This benefit was fully reproduced by iron chelation therapy (deferoxamine). Conversely, divergent cytochrome p450 inhibitors (cimetidine, aminobenzotriazole, troleandomycin) were without effect Catalase induced dose dependent cytoprotection, virtually complete, at a 5000 U/ml dose. Conversely, -OH scavengers (benzoate, DMTU, mannitol), xanthine oxidase inhibition (oxypurinol), superoxide dismutase, and manipulators of nitric oxide expression (L-NAME, L-arginine) were without effect. Intracellular (but not extracellular) calcium chelation (BAPTA-AM) caused approximately 50% reductions in myoglobin-induced cell death. The ability of Ca2+ (plus iron) to drive H2O2 production (phenol red assay) suggests one potential mechanism. Blockade of site 2 (antimycin) and site 3 (azide), but not site 1 (rotenone), mitochondrial electron transport significantly reduced myoglobin cytotoxicity. Inhibition of Na, K-ATPase driven respiration (ouabain) produced a similar protective effect. We conclude that: (1) HO-generated iron release initiates myoglobin toxicity in HK-2 cells; (2) myoglobin, rather than cytochrome p450, appears to be the more likely source of toxic iron release; (3) H2O2 generation, perhaps facilitated by intracellular Ca2+/iron, appears to play a critical role; and (4) cellular respiration/terminal mitochondrial electron transport ultimately helps mediate myoglobin's cytotoxic effect. Formation of poorly characterized toxic iron/H2O2-based reactive intermediates at this site seems likely to be involved.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Antioxidants / pharmacology
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Cell Death / drug effects
  • Cell Line
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System / metabolism
  • Cytosol / metabolism
  • Electron Transport / drug effects
  • Heme Oxygenase (Decyclizing) / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen Peroxide / metabolism
  • Iron / metabolism
  • Kidney Tubules, Proximal / cytology
  • Kidney Tubules, Proximal / drug effects*
  • Kidney Tubules, Proximal / metabolism
  • Mitochondria / drug effects
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Myoglobin / pharmacology*
  • Sodium-Potassium-Exchanging ATPase / metabolism


  • Antioxidants
  • Myoglobin
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System
  • Hydrogen Peroxide
  • Iron
  • Heme Oxygenase (Decyclizing)
  • Sodium-Potassium-Exchanging ATPase
  • Calcium