Methamphetamine (METH) is a drug of abuse which causes neurotoxicity and increased risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases. We previously found that METH induces heme oxygenase (HO)-1 expression in neurons and glial cells, and this offers partial protection against METH toxicity. In this study, we investigated the effects of l-ascorbate (vitamin C, Vit. C) on METH toxicity and HO-1 expression in neuronal/glial cocultures. Cell viability and damage were evaluated by 3-(4,5-dimethylthianol-2-yl)-2,5 diphenyl tetrazolium bromide (MTT) reduction and lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) release, respectively. Neuronal and glial localization of HO-1 were identified by double immunofluorescence staining. Reactive oxygen species (ROS) production was measured using the fluorochrome 2',7'-dichlorofluorescin diacetate. HO-1 mRNA and protein expression were examined by RT-qPCR and Western blotting, respectively. Results show that Vit. C induced HO-1 mRNA and protein expressions in time- and concentration-dependent manners. Inhibition of p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) but not extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) significantly blocked induction of HO-1 by Vit. C. HO-1 mRNA and protein expressions were significantly elevated by a combination of Vit. C and METH, compared to either Vit. C or METH alone. Pretreatment with Vit. C enhanced METH-induced HO-1 expression and attenuated METH-induced ROS production and neurotoxicity. Pharmacological inhibition of HO activity abolished suppressive effects of Vit. C on METH-induced ROS production and attenuated neurotoxicity. We conclude that induction of HO-1 expression contributes to the attenuation of METH-induced ROS production and neurotoxicity by Vit. C. We suggest that HO-1 induction by Vit. C may serve as a strategy to alleviate METH neurotoxicity.
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