Hepatocellular carcinoma cells resist necrosis during anoxia by preventing phospholipase-mediated calpain activation

Amindra S. Arora, Piet C. De Groen, Dorothy E. Croall, Yasufumi Emori, Gregory J. Gores

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43 Scopus citations


Although hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) cells are more resistant to anoxic injury than normal hepatocytes, the mechanisms responsible for this differential sensitivity remain obscure. Because enhanced calpain protease activity contributes to hepatocyte necrosis, we tested the hypothesis that HCC cells resist anoxia by preventing calpain activation. Cell viability in two rat HCC cell lines (N1S1 and McA-RH7777 cells) was fourfold greater compared to rat hepatocytes after 4 h of anoxia. Although calpain activity increased twofold in rat hepatocytes during anoxia, no increase in calpain activity occurred in HCC cells. Western and Northern blot analysis revealed greater or equivalent expression of calpains and calpastatin in HCC cells compared to hepatocytes. Because increases in cytosolic free Ca++ (Ca(i)++) and phospholipid degradation products regulate calpains in vitro, we measured Ca(i)++ and phospholipid degradation. Ca(++i) did not change in any cell types during 60 min of anoxia. In contrast, phospholipid degradation was fourfold greater in hepatocytes compared to HCC cells. Melittin, a phospholipase A2 activator, increased calpain activity and cell necrosis in all cell types; melittin-induced cell necrosis was ameliorated by a calpain protease inhibitor. In summary, these data demonstrate for the first time 1) calpain activation without a measureable increase in Ca(++i), 2) phospholipase-mediated calpain activation in hepatocytes and HCC cells, and 3) the adaptive mechanism responsible for the resistance of HCC cells to anoxia - an inhibition of phospholipid-mediated calpain activation. Interruption of phospholipase-mediated calpain activation may be a therapeutic strategy for preventing anoxic cell injury.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)434-442
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Cellular Physiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1996

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology


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