Author(s): Robertson JD, Orrenius S
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Abstract The purpose of this review article is to discuss established molecular mechanisms of apoptosis and their relevance to cell death induced by environmental toxicants. Apoptosis is a highly regulated form of cell death distinguished by the activation of a family of cysteine-aspartate proteases (caspases) that cleave various proteins resulting in morphological and biochemical changes characteristic of this form of cell death. Abundant evidence supports a role for mitochondria in regulating apoptosis. Specifically, it seems that a number of death stimuli target these organelles and stimulate, by an unknown mechanism, the release of several proteins, including cytochrome c. Once released into the cytosol, cytochrome c binds to its adaptor molecule, Apaf-1, which oligomerizes and then activates pro-caspase-9. Caspase-9 can signal downstream and activate pro-caspase-3 and -7. The release of cytochrome c can be influenced by different Bcl-2 family member proteins, including, but not limited to, Bax, Bid, Bcl-2, and Bcl-X(L). Bax and Bid potentiate cytochrome c release, whereas Bcl-2 and Bcl-X(L) antagonize this event. Although toxicologists have traditionally associated cell death with necrosis, emerging evidence suggests that different types of environmental contaminants exert their toxicity, at least in part, by triggering apoptosis. The mechanism responsible for eliciting the pro-apoptotic effect of a given chemical is often unknown, although in many instances mitochondria appear to be key participants. This review describes our current understanding of the role of apoptosis in environmental toxicant-induced cell death, using dioxin, metals (cadmium and methylmercury), organotin compounds, dithiocarbamates, and benzene as specific examples. Finally, we conclude with a critical discussion of the current knowledge in this area and provide recommendations for future directions.
This article was published in Crit Rev Toxicol
and referenced in Journal of Addiction Research & Therapy