Retinoic acid protects against proteasome inhibition associated cell death in SH-SY5Y cells via the AKT pathway

Benxu Cheng, Alex Anthony Martinez, Jacob Morado, Virginia Scofield, James L. Roberts, Shivani Kaushal Maffi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Inhibition of proteasome activity and the resulting protein accumulation are now known to be important events in the development of many neurological disorders, including Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. Abnormal or over expressed proteins cause endoplasmic reticulum and oxidative stress leading to cell death, thus, normal proteasome function is critical for their removal. We have shown previously, with cultured SH-SY5Y neuroblastoma cells, that proteasome inhibition by the drug epoxomicin results in accumulation of ubiquitinated proteins. This causes obligatory loading of the mitochondria with calcium (Ca2+), resulting in mitochondrial damage and cytochrome c release, followed by programmed cell death (PCD). In the present study, we demonstrate that all-trans-retinoic acid (RA) pretreatment of SH-SY5Y cells protects them from PCD death after subsequent epoxomicin treatment which causes proteasome inhibition. Even though ubiquitinated protein aggregates are present, there is no evidence to suggest that autophagy is involved. We conclude that protection by RA is likely by mechanisms that interfere with cell stress-PCD pathway that otherwise would result from protein accumulation after proteasome inhibition. In addition, although RA activates both the AKT and ERK phosphorylation signaling pathways, only pretreatment with LY294002, an inhibitor of PI3-kinase in the AKT pathway, removed the protective effect of RA from the cells. This finding implies that RA activation of the AKT signaling cascade takes precedence over its activation of ERK1/2 phosphorylation, and that this selective effect of RA is key to its protection of epoxomicin-treated cells. Taken together, these findings suggest that RA treatment of cultured neuroblastoma cells sets up conditions under which proteasome inhibition, and the resultant accumulation of ubiquitinated proteins, loses its ability to kill the cells and may likely play a therapeutic role in neurodegenerative diseases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)31-42
Number of pages12
JournalNeurochemistry International
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2013


  • AKT
  • Epoxomicin
  • Oxidative stress
  • Programmed cell death
  • Proteasome inhibition
  • Retinoic acid
  • SH-SY5Y cells
  • Ubiquitin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Cell Biology


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