Carbon monoxide activates autophagy via mitochondrial reactive oxygen species formation.
Cell Line, Tumor
Disease Models, Animal
Mice, Inbred C57BL
Reactive Oxygen Species
Autophagy, an autodigestive process that degrades cellular organelles and protein, plays an important role in maintaining cellular homeostasis during environmental stress. Carbon monoxide (CO), a toxic gas and candidate therapeutic molecule, confers cytoprotection in animal models of acute lung injury. The mechanisms underlying CO-dependent lung cell protection and the role of autophagy in this process remain unclear. Here, we demonstrate that CO exposure time-dependently increased the expression and activation of the autophagic protein, microtubule-associated protein-1 light chain-3B (LC3B) in mouse lung, and in cultured human alveolar (A549) or human bronchial epithelial cells. Furthermore, CO increased autophagosome formation in epithelial cells by electron microscopy and green fluorescent protein (GFP)-LC3 puncta assays. Recent studies indicate that reactive oxygen species (ROS) play an important role in the activation of autophagy. CO up-regulated mitochondria-dependent generation of ROS in epithelial cells, as assayed by MitoSOX fluorescence. Furthermore, CO-dependent induction of LC3B expression was inhibited by N-acetyl-L-cysteine and the mitochondria-targeting antioxidant, Mito-TEMPO. These data suggest that CO promotes the autophagic process through mitochondrial ROS generation. We investigated the relationships between autophagic proteins and CO-dependent cytoprotection using a model of hyperoxic stress. CO protected against hyperoxia-induced cell death, and inhibited hyperoxia-associated ROS production. The ability of CO to protect against hyperoxia-induced cell death and caspase-3 activation was compromised in epithelial cells infected with LC3B-small interfering (si)RNA, indicating a role for autophagic proteins. These studies uncover a new mechanism for the protective action of CO, in support of potential therapeutic application of this gas.