Vanadate has been considered in the treatment of diabetes because of its insulin-like effects. However, it has severe toxic effects in both animal and man. In cultured cells, vanadate can either cause death or be growth stimulatory, depending on the cell type and growth conditions. Here, we report that in baboon aortic smooth muscle cells (SMCs), vanadate induced p42/p44 mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) activity. This effect was abolished in the presence of the specific MAPK kinase (MAPKK) inhibitor PD098059. Although activation of p42/p44MAPK/MAPKK is generally thought to be necessary for proliferation, in SMCs, vanadate did not promote DNA synthesis and inhibited thymidine incorporation stimulated by platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF)-BB in a dose dependent fashion (IC50: 30 μM). Prolonged exposure to vanadate exerted cytotoxic effects. Cells retracted, rounded up and detached from the substratum. These vanadate-induced morphological changes were blocked in the presence of PD098059. The addition of PDGF-BB further activated p42/p44MAPK/MAPKK in the presence of vanadate and substantially increased vanadate toxicity. We conclude from these observations that activation of the p42/p44MAPK/MAPKK signalling module contributes to the cytotoxic effects induced by vanadate.
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