Antiapoptotic activity of argon and xenon
Although chemically non-reactive, inert noble gases may influence multiple physiological and pathological processes via hitherto uncharacterized physical effects. Here we report a cell-based detection system for assessing the effects of pre-defined gas mixtures on the induction of apoptotic cell death. In this setting, the conventional atmosphere for cell culture was substituted with gas combinations, including the same amount of oxygen (20%) and carbon dioxide (5%) but 75% helium, neon, argon, krypton, or xenon instead of nitrogen. The replacement of nitrogen with noble gases per se had no effects on the viability of cultured human osteosarcoma cells in vitro. Conversely, argon and xenon (but not helium, neon, and krypton) significantly limited cell loss induced by the broad-spectrum tyrosine kinase inhibitor staurosporine, the DNA-damaging agent mitoxantrone and several mitochondrial toxins. Such cytoprotective effects were coupled to the maintenance of mitochondrial integrity, as demonstrated by means of a mitochondrial transmembrane potential-sensitive dye and by assessing the release of cytochrome c into the cytosol. In line with this notion, argon and xenon inhibited the apoptotic activation of caspase-3, as determined by immunofluorescence microscopy coupled to automated image analysis. The antiapoptotic activity of argon and xenon may explain their clinically relevant cytoprotective effects.