Background: Although the cytotoxic effects of cysteine (Cys) on renal cells have been established, the effects of homocysteine (Hcy), which causes endothelial cell dysfunction, have not been well tested. We compared the direct toxicity of Hcy on renal tubular cells to that of Cys and examined the mechanism of cell toxicity. Methods: LLC-PK1 cells were incubated with test media containing 500 µM Cys or Hcy in the presence or absence of 100 µM copper. Lactate dehydrogenase release and thiobarbituric acid reactive substance were measured for estimating cytolysis and lipid peroxidation, respectively. The generation of hydrogen peroxide and hydroxyl radical, and the cell redox state were analyzed using the scopoletin method, salicylate-trap method, and glutathione (GSH) content, respectively. Superoxide dismutase, catalase, and vitamin E also were used for clarifying the mechanism of toxicity. Results: In the presence of copper (+ Cu), cytolysis at 16 h was more prominent in cells exposed to Cys than Hcy. In accordance with cytotoxicity, lipid peroxidation at 4 h of incubation, as well as hydrogen peroxide and hydroxyl radical formation in a shorter incubation, were remarkably greater in Cys + Cu than Hcy + Cu. The addition of Hcy, but not Cys, decreased GSH content significantly. Conclusion: In the presence of copper, Cys was extraordinarily more cytotoxic to renal cells than Hcy. Cytotoxicity from Hcy may be dependent upon depletion of cellular GSH, while Cys cytotoxicity is primarily dependent upon the generation of reactive oxygen species and lipid peroxidation.

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