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Keywords:

  • cadmium;
  • N-acetyl-L-cysteine;
  • mammalian target of rapamycin;
  • neuronal apoptosis;
  • reactive oxygen species

Aims

This study explores the neuroprotective effects and mechanisms of N-acetyl-L-cysteine (NAC) in mice exposed to cadmium (Cd).

Methods

NAC (150 mg/kg) was intraperitoneally administered to mice exposed to Cd (10–50 mg/L) in drinking water for 6 weeks. The changes of cell damage and death, reactive oxygen species (ROS), antioxidant enzymes, as well as Akt/mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) signalling pathway in brain neurones were assessed. To verify the role of mTOR activation in Cd-induced neurotoxicity, mice also received a subacute regimen of intraperitoneally administered Cd (1 mg/kg) with/without rapamycin (7.5 mg/kg) for 11 days.

Results

Chronic exposure of mice to Cd induced brain damage or neuronal cell death, due to ROS induction. Co-administration of NAC significantly reduced Cd levels in the plasma and brain of the animals. NAC prevented Cd-induced ROS and significantly attenuated Cd-induced brain damage or neuronal cell death. The protective effect of NAC was mediated, at least partially, by elevating the activities of Cu/Zn-superoxide dismutase, catalase and glutathione peroxidase, as well as the level of glutathione in the brain. Furthermore, Cd-induced activation of Akt/mTOR pathway in the brain was also inhibited by NAC. Rapamycin in vitro and in vivo protected against Cd-induced neurotoxicity.

Conclusions

NAC protects against Cd-induced neuronal apoptosis in mouse brain partially by inhibiting ROS-dependent activation of Akt/mTOR pathway. The findings highlight that NAC may be exploited for prevention and treatment of Cd-induced neurodegenerative diseases.