A novel cytoprotective peptide protects mesenchymal stem cells against mitochondrial dysfunction and apoptosis induced by starvation via Nrf2/Sirt3/FoxO3a pathway
PURPOSE Nutrition is indispensable for cell survival and proliferation. Thus, loss of nutrition caused by serum starvation in cells could induce formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS), resulting in cell death. Liquiritigenin (LQ) is an active flavonoid in licorice and plays a role in the liver as a hepatic protectant. METHODS This study investigated the effect of LQ, metformin [an activator of activated AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK)] and GW4064 [a ligand of farnesoid X receptor (FXR)] on mitochondrial dysfunction and oxidative stress induced by serum deprivation as well as its molecular mechanism, as assessed by immunoblot and flow cytometer assays. RESULTS Serum deprivation in HepG2, H4IIE and AML12 cells successfully induced oxidative stress and apoptosis, as indicated by depletion of glutathione, formation of ROS, and altered expression of apoptosis-related proteins such as procaspase-3, poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase, and Bcl-2. However, LQ pretreatment significantly blocked these pathological changes and mitochondrial dysfunction caused by serum deprivation. Moreover, LQ activated AMPK in HepG2 cells and mice liver, as shown by phosphorylation of AMPK and ACC, and this activation was mediated by its upstream kinase (i.e., LKB1). Experiments using a chemical inhibitor of AMPK with LKB1-deficient Hela cells revealed the role of the LKB1-AMPK pathway in cellular protection conferred by LQ. LQ also induced protein and mRNA expression of both FXR as well as small heterodimer partner, which is important since treatment with FXR ligand GW4064 protected hepatocytes against cell death and mitochondrial damage induced by serum deprivation. CONCLUSION AMPK activators such as LQ can protect hepatocytes against oxidative hepatic injury and mitochondrial dysfunction induced by serum deprivation, and the beneficial effect might be mediated through the LKB1 pathway as well as FXR induction.