The role of autophagy in cadmium-induced acute toxicity in glomerular mesangial cells and tracking polyubiquitination of cytoplasmic p53 as a biomarker

Cadmium (Cd) is a highly toxic environmental pollutant that can severely damage the kidneys. Here, we show that Cd-induced apoptosis is promoted by the cytoplasmic polyubiquitination of p53 (polyUb-p53), which is regulated by the polyubiquitination of SQSTM1/p62 (polyUb-p62) and autophagy in mouse kidney mesangial cells (MES13E cells). p53 was detected in monomeric and different high-molecular-weight (HMW) forms after Cd exposure. Monomeric p53 levels decreased in a concentration- and time-dependent manner. HMW-p53 transiently accumulated in the cytoplasm independent of proteasome inhibition. The expression patterns of p53 were similar to those of p62 upon Cd exposure, and the interactions between polyUb-p53 and polyUb-p62 were observed using immunoprecipitation. P62 knockdown reduced polyUb-p53 and upregulated nuclear monomeric p53, whereas p53 knockdown reduced polyUb-p62. Autophagy inhibition induced by ATG5 knockdown reduced Cd-induced polyUb-p62 and polyUb-p53 but upregulated the levels of nuclear p53. Pharmacological inhibition of autophagy by bafilomycin A1 increased polyUb-p62 and polyUb-p53 in the cytoplasm, indicating that p53 protein levels and subcellular localization were regulated by polyUb-p62 and autophagy. Immunoprecipitation and immunofluorescence revealed an interaction between p53 and LC3B, indicating that p53 was taken up by autophagosomes. Cd-resistant RMES13E cells and kidney tissues from mice continuously injected with Cd had reduced polyUb-p53, polyUb-p62, and autophagy levels. Similar results were observed in renal cell carcinoma cell lines. These results indicate that cytoplasmic polyUb-p53 is a potential biomarker for Cd-induced acute toxicity in mesangial cells. In addition, upregulation of nuclear p53 may protect cells against Cd cytotoxicity, but abnormal p53 accumulation may contribute to tumor development.

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