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The Level Of Intracellular Glutathione Is A Key Regulator For The Induction Of Stress-activated Signal Transduction Pathways Including Jun N-terminal Protein Kinases And P38 Kinase By Alkylating Agents

D Wilhelm, K Bender, A Knebel, P Angel

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Monofunctional alkylating agents like methyl methanesulfonate (MMS) and N-methyl-N'-nitro-N-nitrosoguanidine (MNNG) are potent inducers of cellular stress leading to chromosomal aberrations, point mutations, and cell killing. We show that these agents induce a specific cellular stress response program which includes the activation of Jun N-terminal kinases/stress-activated protein kinases (JNK/SAPKs), p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase, and the upstream kinase SEK1/MKK4 and which depends on the reaction mechanism of the alkylating agent in question. Similar to another inducer of cellular stress, UV irradiation, damage of nuclear DNA by alkylation is not involved in the MMS-induced response. However, in contrast to UV and other inducers of the JNK/SAPKs and p38 pathways, activation of growth factor and G-protein-coupled receptors does not play a role in the MMS response. We identified the intracellular glutathione (GSH) level as critical for JNK/SAPK activation by MMS: enhancing the GSH level by pretreatment of the cells with GSH or N-acetylcysteine inhibits, whereas depletion of the cellular GSH pool causes hyperinduction of JNK/SAPK activity by MMS. In light of the JNK/SAPK-dependent induction of c-jun and c-fos transcription, and the Jun/Fos-induced transcription of xenobiotic-metabolizing enzymes, these data provide a potential critical role of JNK/SAPK and p38 in the induction of a cellular defense program against cytotoxic xenobiotics such as MMS.