Humanin (HN) is a small mitochondrial-encoded peptide with neuroprotective properties. We have recently shown protection of retinal pigmented epithelium (RPE) cells by HN in oxidative stress; however, the effect of HN on endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress has not been evaluated in any cell type. Our aim here was to study the effect of HN on ER stressinduced apoptosis in RPE cells with a specific focus on ER-mitochondrial cross-talk. Dose dependent effects of ER stressors (tunicamycin (TM), brefeldin A, and thapsigargin) were studied after 12 hr of treatment in confluent primary human RPE cells with or without 12 hr of HN pretreatment (1-20 μg/mL). All three ER stressors induced RPE cell apoptosis in a dose dependent manner. HN pretreatment significantly decreased the number of apoptotic cells with all three ER stressors in a dose dependent manner. HN pretreatment similarly protected U-251 glioma cells from TM-induced apoptosis in a dose dependent manner. HN pretreatment significantly attenuated activation of caspase 3 and ER stress-specific caspase 4 induced by TM. TM treatment increased mitochondrial superoxide production, and HN co-treatment resulted in a decrease in mitochondrial superoxide compared to TM treatment alone. We further showed that depleted mitochondrial glutathione (GSH) levels induced by TM were restored with HN co-treatment. No significant changes were found for the expression of several antioxidant enzymes between TM and TM plus HN groups except for the expression of glutamylcysteine ligase catalytic subunit (GCLC), the rate limiting enzyme required for GSH biosynthesis, which is upregulated with TM and TM+HN treatment. These results demonstrate that ER stress promotes mitochondrial alterations in RPE that lead to apoptosis. We further show that HN has a protective effect against ER stressinduced apoptosis by restoring mitochondrial GSH. Thus, HN should be further evaluated for its therapeutic potential in disorders linked to ER stress.
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