Toxicon. 2015 Dec 15. pii: S0041-0101(15)30152-5
Melittin (MEL) is the main constituent and principal toxin of bee venom. It is a small basic peptide, consisting of a known amino acid sequence, with powerful haemolytic activity. Since MEL is a nonspecific cytolytic peptide that attacks lipid membranes thus leading to toxicity, the presumption is that it could have significant therapeutic benefits.
The aim was to evaluate the cyto/genotoxic effects of MEL in human peripheral blood lymphocytes (HPBLs) and the molecular mechanisms involved using a multi-biomarker approach. We found that MEL was cytotoxic for HPBLs in a dose- and time-dependent manner. It also induced morphological changes in the cell membrane, granulation and lysis of exposed cells.
After treating HPBLs with non-cytotoxic concentrations of MEL, we observed increased DNA damage including oxidative DNA damage as well as increased formation of micronuclei and nuclear buds, and decreased lymphocyte proliferation determined by comet and micronucleus assays. The observed genotoxicity coincided with increased formation of reactive oxygen species, reduction of glutathione level, increased lipid peroxidation and phospholipase C activity, showing the induction of oxidative stress. MEL also modulated the expression of selected genes involved in DNA damage response (TP53, CDKN1A, GADD45α, MDM), oxidative stress (CAT, SOD1, GPX1, GSR and GCLC) and apoptosis (BAX, BCL-2, CAS-3 and CAS-7).
Results indicate that MEL is genotoxic to HPBLs and provide evidence that oxidative stress is involved in its DNA damaging effects. MEL toxicity towards normal cells has to be considered if used for potential therapeutic purposes.