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Adaptation to acrolein through upregulating the protection by glutathione in human bronchial epithelial cells: the materialization of the hormesis concept

Sthijns, MM;Randall, MJ;Bast, A;Haenen, GR;

Acrolein is a thiol reactive compound present in cigarette smoke and plays a pivotal role in the deleterious effects of smoking. Acrolein causes toxicity in human bronchial epithelial cells in a dose dependent manner. GSH forms the first line of defense against acrolein-induced toxicity. At high doses of acrolein (10 M) the capacity of the cellular protection by GSH is overwhelmed and GSH is not able to quench all the acrolein, resulting in cytotoxicity. At a relatively low dose of acrolein (3 M), no cytotoxicity is observed due to protection by GSH. Moreover we found that exposure to a low dose of acrolein protects cells against the toxic effect of a second higher dose of acrolein. The adaptation to acrolein is induced via Nrf2 mediated gene expression of -glutamylcysteine synthetase leading to elevated GSH levels. This upregulation of the protection by GSH demonstrates a hormetic response to acrolein. Hormesis is an adaptive or compensatory response induced by a relatively subtle challenge of homeostasis by a toxic compound. Insight into the mechanism of hormesis is mandatory for a more accurate societal regulation of toxic compounds.