Initiation of nitric oxide (NO)-mediated apoptotic cell death in RAW 264.7 macrophages is associated with up-regulation of mitochondrial manganese superoxide dismutase (MnSOD; SOD2) and down-regulation of cytosolic copper zinc superoxide dismutase (CuZnSOD; SOD1) at their individual mRNA and protein levels. To evaluate the decreased CuZnSOD expression and the initiation of apoptosis we stably transfected macrophages to overexpress human CuZnSOD. Individual clones revealed a 2-fold increase in CuZnSOD activity. Expression of a functional and thus protective CuZnSOD was verified by attenuated superoxide (O2-)-mediated apoptotic as well as necrotic cell death. In this study we showed that SOD-overexpressing macrophages (R-SOD1-12) were also protected against NO-initiated programmed cell death. Protection was substantial towards NO derived from exogenously added NO donors or when NO was generated by inducible NO synthase activation, and was evident at the level of p53 accumulation, caspase activation and DNA fragmentation. Stimulation of parent and SOD-overexpressing cells with a combination of lipopolysaccharide and murine interferon γ produced equivalent amounts of nitrite/nitrate, which ruled out attenuated inducible NO synthase activity during protection. Because protection by a O2--scavenging system during NO-intoxication implies a role of NO and O2- in the progression of cell damage, we used uric acid to delineate the role of peroxynitrite during NO-elicited apoptosis. The peroxynitrite scavenger uric acid left S-nitrosoglutathione or spermine-NO-elicited apoptosis unaltered, blocking only 3-morpholinosydnonimine-mediated cell death. As a result we exclude peroxynitrite from contributing, to any major extent, to NO-mediated apoptosis. Therefore protection observed with CuZnSOD overexpression is unlikely to stem from interference with peroxynitrite formation and/or action. Unequivocally, the down-regulation of CuZnSOD is associated with NO cytotoxicity, whereas CuZnSOD overexpression protects macrophages from apoptosis.

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