Reactive oxygen species (ROS) attack polyunsaturated fatty acids of the membrane and trigger lipid peroxidation, which results in the generation of α,β-unsaturated aldehydes, such as 4-hydroxy-2-nonenal (4-HNE). There is compelling evidence that high concentrations of aldehydes are responsible for much of the damage elicited by cardiac ischemia-reperfusion injury, while sublethal concentrations of aldehydes stimulate stress resistance pathways, to achieve cardioprotection. We investigated the mechanism of cardioprotection mediated by 4-HNE. For cultured cardiomyocytes, 4-HNE was cytotoxic at higher concentrations (≥20μM) but had no appreciable cytotoxicity at lower concentrations. Notably, a sublethal concentration (5μM) of 4-HNE primed cardiomyocytes to become resistant to cytotoxic concentrations of 4-HNE. 4-HNE induced nuclear translocation of transcription factor NF-E2-related factor 2 (Nrf2), and enhanced the expression of γ-glutamylcysteine ligase (GCL) and the core subunit of the Xc- high-affinity cystine transporter (xCT), thereby increasing 1.45-fold the intracellular GSH levels. Cardiomyocytes treated with either Nrf2-specific siRNA or the GCL inhibitor l-buthionine sulfoximine (BSO) were less tolerant to 4-HNE. Moreover, the cardioprotective effect of 4-HNE pretreatment against subsequent glucose-free anoxia followed by reoxygenation was completely abolished in these cells. Intravenous administration of 4-HNE (4mg/kg) activated Nrf2 in the heart and increased the intramyocardial GSH content, and consequently improved the functional recovery of the left ventricle following ischemia-reperfusion in Langendorff-perfused hearts. This cardioprotective effect of 4-HNE was not observed for Nrf2-knockout mice. In summary, 4-HNE activates Nrf2-mediated gene expression and stimulates GSH biosynthesis, thereby conferring on cardiomyocytes protection against ischemia-reperfusion injury.
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