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Journal of Toxicology
Volume 2011, Article ID 808967, 14 pages
Research Article

Protective Effects of Liposomal N-Acetylcysteine against Paraquat-Induced Cytotoxicity and Gene Expression

1Medical Sciences Division, Northern Ontario School of Medicine, Thunder Bay, ON, Canada P7B 5E1
2Department of Biology, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, ON, Canada P7B 5E1

Received 3 December 2010; Revised 20 January 2011; Accepted 31 January 2011

Academic Editor: P. J. O'Brien

Copyright © 2011 Panagiotis Mitsopoulos and Zacharias E. Suntres. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Paraquat (PQ) is a herbicide that preferentially accumulates in the lung and exerts its cytotoxicity via the generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS). There is no specific treatment for paraquat poisoning. Attempts have been made to increase the antioxidant status in the lung using antioxidants (e.g., superoxide dismutase, vitamin E, N-acetylcysteine) but the outcome from such treatments is limited. Encapsulation of antioxidants in liposomes improves their therapeutic potential against oxidant-induced lung damage because liposomes facilitate intracellular delivery and prolong the retention of entrapped agents inside the cell. In the present study, we compared the effectiveness of conventional N-acetylcysteine (NAC) and liposomal-NAC (L-NAC) against PQ-induced cytotoxicity and examined the mechanism(s) by which these antioxidant formulations conferred cytoprotection. The effects of NAC or L-NAC against PQ-induced cytotoxicity in A549 cells were assessed by measuring cellular PQ uptake, intracellular glutathione content, ROS levels, mitochondrial membrane potential, cellular gene expression, inflammatory cytokine release and cell viability. Pretreatment of cells with L-NAC was significantly more effective than pretreatment with the conventional drug in reducing PQ-induced cytotoxicity, as indicated by the biomarkers used in this study. Our results suggested that the delivery of NAC as a liposomal formulation improves its effectiveness in counteracting PQ-induced cytotoxicity.