Although all-trans-retinoic acid (ATRA) provides protection against a variety of conditions in vivo, particularly ischemia, the molecular mechanisms underpinning these effects remain unclear. The present studies were designed to assess potential mechanisms by which ATRA affords cytoprotection against renal toxicants in LLC-PK1 cells. Pretreatment of LLC-PK1 cells with ATRA (25 µM) for 24 h afforded cytoprotection against oncotic cell death induced by p-aminophenol (PAP), 2-(glutathion-S-yl)hydroquinone (MGHQ), and iodoacetamide but not against apoptotic cell death induced by cisplatin. Inhibition of protein synthesis with cycloheximide blunted ATRA protection, indicating essential cell survival pathways must be engaged before toxicant exposure to provide cytoprotection. Interestingly, ATRA did not prevent the PAP-induced generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) nor did it alter glutathione levels. Moreover, ATRA had no significant effect on Nrf2 protein expression, and the Nrf2 inducers sulforaphane and MG132 did not influence ATRA cytoprotection, suggesting cytoprotective pathways beyond those that influence ROS levels contribute to ATRA protection. In contrast, ATRA rapidly (15 min) induced levels of the cellular stress kinases p-ERK and p-AKT at concentrations of ATRA (10 and 25 µM) required for cytoprotection. Consistent with a role for p-ERK in ATRA-mediated cytoprotection, inhibition of p-ERK with PD98059 reduced the ability of ATRA to afford protection against PAP toxicity. Collectively, these data suggest that p-ERK and its downstream targets, independent of ROS and antioxidant signaling, are important contributors to the cytoprotective effects of ATRA against oncotic cell death.
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