Oxidative stress-associated retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) cell death is critically implicated in the pathogenesis of visual dysfunction and blindness of retinal degenerative diseases. Sodium iodate (NaIO) is an oxidative retinotoxin and causes RPE damage. Previously, we found that NaIO can induce human ARPE-19 cell death via inducing mitochondrial fission and mitochondrial dysfunction. Although metformin has been demonstrated to benefit several diseases possibly via AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) activation, it remains unknown how AMPK affects retinopathy in NaIO model. Therefore, in this study, we compared the effects of metformin and AMPK activator A769662 on NaIO-induced cellular stress and toxicity. We found that A769662 can protect cells against NaIO-induced cytotoxicity, while metformin exerts an enhancement in cell death. The mitochondrial reactive oxygen species (ROS) production as well as mitochondrial membrane potential loss induced by NaIO were not altered by both agents. In addition, NaIO-induced cytosolic ROS production, possibly from nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADPH) oxidase activation and counteracting cell death, was not altered by A769662 and metformin. Notably, NaIO-induced mitochondrial fission and inhibition of mitochondrial respiration for ATP turnover were reversed by A769662 but not by metformin. In agreement with the changes on mitochondrial morphology, the ERK-Akt signal axis dependent Drp-1 phosphorylation at S616 (an index of mitochondrial fission) under NaIO treatment was blocked by A769662, but not by metformin. In summary, NaIO-induced cell death in ARPE cells primarily comes from mitochondrial dysfunction due to dramatic fission and inhibition of mitochondrial respiration. AMPK activation can exert a protection by restoring mitochondrial respiration and inhibition of ERK/Akt/Drp-1 phosphorylation, leading to a reduction in mitochondrial fission. However, inhibition of respiratory complex I by metformin might deteriorate mitochondrial dysfunction and cell death under NaIO stress.

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PubMed