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Melatonin alleviates cadmium-induced cellular stress and germ cell apoptosis in testes


Address reprint requests to De-Xiang Xu, Department of Toxicology, Anhui Medical University, Hefei 230032, China. E-mail:


Abstract:  Increasing evidence demonstrates that melatonin has an anti-apoptotic effect in somatic cells. However, whether melatonin can protect against germ cell apoptosis remains obscure. Cadmium (Cd) is a testicular toxicant and induces germ cell apoptosis. In this study, we investigated the effects of melatonin on Cd-evoked germ cell apoptosis in testes. Male ICR mice were intraperitoneally (i.p.) injected with melatonin (5 mg/kg) every 8 hr, beginning at 8 hr before CdCl2 (2.0 mg/kg, i.p.). As expected, acute Cd exposure resulted in germ cell apoptosis in testes, as determined by terminal dUTP nick-end labeling (TUNEL) staining. Melatonin significantly alleviated Cd-induced testicular germ cell apoptosis. An additional experiment showed that spliced form of XBP-1, the target of the IRE-1 pathway, was significantly increased in testes of mice injected with CdCl2. GRP78, an endoplasmic reticulum (ER) chaperone, and CHOP, a downstream target of the PERK pathway, were upregulated in testes of Cd-treated mice. In addition, acute Cd exposure significantly increased testicular eIF2α and JNK phosphorylation, indicating that the unfolded protein response (UPR) pathway was activated by CdCl2. Interestingly, melatonin almost completely inhibited Cd-induced ER stress and the UPR in testes. In addition, melatonin obviously attenuated Cd-induced heme oxygenase (HO)-1 expression and protein nitration in testes. Taken together, these results suggest that melatonin alleviates Cd-induced cellular stress and germ cell apoptosis in testes. Melatonin may be useful as pharmacological agents to protect against Cd-induced testicular toxicity.