Under certain conditions, many radioprotective thiols can be toxic, causing loss of colony-forming ability in cultured mammalian cells in a biphasic fashion whereby the thiols are not toxic at high or low concentrations of the drug, but cause decreased clonogenicity at intermediate (0.2-1.0 mM) drug levels. This symposium paper summarizes our studies using dithiothreitol (DTT) as a model thiol to demonstrate the role of Fenton chemistry in thiol toxicity. The toxicity of DTT in V79 cells has several characteristics: it is dependent on the medium used during exposure of cells to the drug; the toxicity is decreased or prevented by addition of catalase exogenously, but superoxide dismutase has no effect; the toxicity is increased by addition of copper, either free or derived from ceruloplasmin in serum; and the toxicity can be modified intracellularly by altering glucose availability or pentose cycle activity. Thus the data are consistent with a mechanism whereby DTT oxidation produces H2 O2 in a reaction catalyzed by metals, predominantly copper, followed by reaction of H2 O2 in a metal-catalyzed Fenton reaction to produce the ultimate toxic species, <tex-math>${}^{\bullet}{\rm OH}$</tex-math>. Studies comparing 12 thiols have shown that the magnitude of cell killing and pattern of dependence on thiol concentration vary among the different agents, with the toxicity depending on the interplay between the rates of two reactions: thiol oxidation and the reaction between the thiol and the H2 O2 produced during the thiol oxidation. The addition of other metals, e.g. Zn2+, and metal chelators, e.g. EDTA, can also alter DTT toxicity by altering the rates of thiol oxidation or the Fenton reaction. Recent studies have shown that in certain cell lines thiols can also cause apoptosis in a biphasic pattern, with little apoptosis at low or high drug concentrations but greatly increased apoptosis levels at intermediate (∼3 mM) thiol concentrations. There appears to be a good correlation between those thiols that cause loss of clonogenicity and those that induce apoptosis, suggesting similar mechanisms may be involved in both end points. However, thiol-induced apoptosis is not prevented by addition of exogenous catalase. These observations are discussed in relation to the possible role of Fenton chemistry in induction of apoptosis by thiols.

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