AKT/mTOR and c-Jun N-terminal kinase signaling pathways are required for chrysotile asbestos-induced autophagy

Ziying Lin, Tie Liu, David W. Kamp, Yahong Wang, Huijuan He, Xu Zhou, Donghong Li, Lawei Yang, Bin Zhao, Gang Liu*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Chrysotile asbestos is closely associated with excess mortality from pulmonary diseases such as lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis. Although multiple mechanisms in which chrysotile asbestos fibers induce pulmonary disease have been identified, the role of autophagy in human lung epithelial cells has not been examined. In this study, we evaluated whether chrysotile asbestos induces autophagy in A549 human lung epithelial cells and then analyzed the possible underlying molecular mechanism. Chrysotile asbestos induced autophagy in A549 cells based on a series of biochemical and microscopic autophagy markers. We observed that asbestos increased expression of A549 cell microtubule-associated protein 1 light chain 3 (LC3-II), an autophagy marker, in conjunction with dephosphorylation of phospho-AKT, phospho-mTOR, and phospho-p70S6K. Notably, AKT1/AKT2 double-knockout murine embryonic fibroblasts (MEFs) had negligible asbestos-induced LC3-II expression, supporting a crucial role for AKT signaling. Chrysotile asbestos also led to the phosphorylation/ activation of Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) and p38 MAPK. Pharmacologic inhibition of JNK, but not p38 MAPK, dramatically inhibited the protein expression of LC3-II. Moreover, JNK2-/- MEFs but not JNK1-/- MEFs blocked LC3-II levels induced by chrysotile asbestos. In addition, N-acetylcysteine, an antioxidant, attenuated chrysotile asbestos-induced dephosphorylation of P-AKT and completely abolished phosphorylation/activation of JNK. Finally, we demonstrated that chrysotile asbestos-induced apoptosis was not affected by the presence of the autophagy inhibitor 3-methyladenine or autophagy-related gene 5 siRNA, indicating that the chrysotile asbestos-induced autophagy may be adaptive rather than prosurvival. Our findings demonstrate that AKT/mTOR and JNK2 signaling pathways are required for chrysotile asbestos-induced autophagy. These data provide a mechanistic basis for possible future clinical applications targeting these signaling pathways in the management of asbestos-induced lung disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)296-307
Number of pages12
JournalFree Radical Biology and Medicine
StatePublished - Jul 2014


  • A549 cells
  • Autophagy
  • Chrysotile asbestos
  • Free radicals
  • LC3-II
  • Pulmonary disease

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology (medical)
  • Biochemistry


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