Leong PK, Lam PY, Chen N, Ko KM
Division of Life Science, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Clear water bay, Hong Kong.
Ursolic acid (UA), a natural pentacyclic triterpenoid carboxylic acid, is a ubiquitous compound widely distributed in many plants, fruits and medicinal herbs worldwide. A previous study in our laboratory has shown that UA can increase the mitochondrial ATP generation capacity (ATP-GC) and a glutathione-dependent antioxidant response, thereby protecting against oxidant injury in H9c2 cells in vitro and rat hearts ex vivo. However, the mechanism underlying the cellular protective effects induced by UA remains largely unknown. The present study has shown that pre-incubation with UA produces a transient increase in the mitochondrial membrane potential in H9c2 cells, which was accompanied by increases in mitochondrial reactive oxygen species (ROS) production. Studies using an antioxidant (dimethylthiourea) indicated that the suppression of mitochondrial ROS completely abrogated the UA-induced enhancement of mitochondrial uncoupling and glutathione reductase (GR)-mediated glutathione redox cycling, as well as protection against menadione cytotoxicity in H9c2 cells. Co-incubation with specific inhibitors of uncoupling proteins and GR almost completely prevented the cytoprotection afforded by UA against menadione-induced cytotoxicity in H9c2 cells. The results obtained so far suggest that UA-induced mitochondrial ROS production can elicit mitochondrial uncoupling and glutathione-dependent antioxidant responses, which offer cytoprotection against oxidant injury in H9c2 cells.