We have studied the effects of HgCl2 on the lipids of LLC-PK1 (pig kidney) epithelial cells. Our results show that treatment of cells with HgCl2 caused a rapid accumulation of unesterified fatty acids (particularly arachidonic acid) and lysophospholipids. A 27-fold increase in unesterified arachidonic acid and a 17-fold increase in lysophosphatidylethanolamine (LPE) was accompanied by a 26% decline in the mass of phosphatidylethanolamine as determined by gas chromatography and lipid phosphorus assay. Similar changes were seen following HgCl2 treatment of cells whose lipids were labelled with 14C stearic acid, 3H arachidonic acid, or 14C acetate, but the radiolabelling techniques also identified an increased content of label in lysophosphatidylcholine (LPC) and a corresponding decrease in phosphatidylcholine. These alterations were accompanied by the formation of blebs on the plasma membrane and irreversible injury as indicated by electron microscopy. The possible role of unesterified acids in the pathogenesis of injury was studied by adding fatty acids to the cells. The addition of unsaturated fatty acids (oleic, linoleic, or arachidonic acids) to the cells caused plasma membrane blebbing and loss of viability. Similarly, the addition of LPC or LPE to the cells resulted in cell death; however, plasma membrane blebbing did not result.
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