Polystyrene nanoplastic exposure induces excessive mitophagy by activating AMPK/ULK1 pathway in differentiated SH-SY5Y cells and dopaminergic neurons in vivo

Published on Saturday, 02 December 2023


Background: Microplastics and nanoplastics (MNPs) are emerging environmental contaminants detected in human samples, and have raised concerns regarding their potential risks to human health, particularly neurotoxicity. This study aimed to investigate the deleterious effects of polystyrene nanoplastics (PS-NPs, 50 nm) and understand their mechanisms in inducing Parkinson's disease (PD)-like neurodegeneration, along with exploring preventive strategies.

Methods: Following exposure to PS-NPs (0.5-500 μg/mL), we assessed cytotoxicity, mitochondrial integrity, ATP levels, and mitochondrial respiration in dopaminergic-differentiated SH-SY5Y cells. Molecular docking and dynamic simulations explored PS-NPs' interactions with mitochondrial complexes. We further probed mitophagy's pivotal role in PS-NP-induced mitochondrial damage and examined melatonin's ameliorative potential in vitro. We validated melatonin's intervention (intraperitoneal, 10 mg/kg/d) in C57BL/6 J mice exposed to 250 mg/kg/d of PS-NPs for 28 days.

Results: In our in vitro experiments, we observed PS-NP accumulation in cells, including mitochondria, leading to cell toxicity and reduced viability. Notably, antioxidant treatment failed to fully rescue viability, suggesting reactive oxygen species (ROS)-independent cytotoxicity. PS-NPs caused significant mitochondrial damage, characterized by altered morphology, reduced mitochondrial membrane potential, and decreased ATP production. Subsequent investigations pointed to PS-NP-induced disruption of mitochondrial respiration, potentially through interference with complex I (CI), a concept supported by molecular docking studies highlighting the influence of PS-NPs on CI. Rescue experiments using an AMPK pathway inhibitor (compound C) and an autophagy inhibitor (3-methyladenine) revealed that excessive mitophagy was induced through AMPK/ULK1 pathway activation, worsening mitochondrial damage and subsequent cell death in differentiated SH-SY5Y cells. Notably, we identified melatonin as a potential protective agent, capable of alleviating PS-NP-induced mitochondrial dysfunction. Lastly, our in vivo experiments demonstrated that melatonin could mitigate dopaminergic neuron loss and motor impairments by restoring mitophagy regulation in mice.

Conclusions: Our study demonstrated that PS-NPs disrupt mitochondrial function by affecting CI, leading to excessive mitophagy through the AMPK/ULK1 pathway, causing dopaminergic neuron death. Melatonin can counteract PS-NP-induced mitochondrial dysfunction and motor impairments by regulating mitochondrial autophagy. These findings offer novel insights into the MNP-induced PD-like neurodegenerative mechanisms, and highlight melatonin's protective potential in mitigating the MNP's environmental risk.


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See also:

- Official Web Site: The Di Bella Method;


- The Di Bella Method (A Fixed Part - Melatonin tablets. From 30-40mg/day up to 200mg/day orally in patients with advanced stage of cancer disease and/or patients without respond to traditional treatments);

Melatonin use in cancer patients have started in 1974, when melatonin prepared according to Prof. Di Bella’s formulation [...]. For 11 days was administered to the patient, admitted to the general medical ward at the Maggiore-Pizzardi Hospital in Bologna, very slowly (over approx. 8 hours) and intravenously administered 1000 mg of melatonin for 11 days. During the course of each day, the patient was intravenously administered 4 saline drips of 500 ml, each containing ten 25 mg bottles of freeze-dried melatonin, lasting 2 hours, totaling 1000 mg per day. No other drug of any kind was administered in order to ascertain the effect of the MLT without interference [...]. From Melatonin with adenosine solubilized in water and stabilized with glycine for oncological treatment - technical preparation, effectivity and clinical findings;

- About Melatonin - In vitro, review and in vivo publications;

- Publication: Melatonin anticancer effects: Review (from Di Bella's Foundation);

- Publication: Key aspects of melatonin physiology: 30 years of research (from Di Bella's Foundation);

- The Di Bella Method (A Fixed Part - All-Trans Retinoic Acid, Analogues and/or Derivatives - Approximately 60mg per day orally: 40mg per day Beta-Carotene/β-Carotene, 10mg per day ATRA and 10mg per day Axerophthol palmitate);

- All-Trans-Retinoic Acid (ATRA - analogues and/or derivatives) - In vitro, review and in vivo publications;

- Solution of retinoids in vitamin E in the Di Bella Method biological multitherapy;

- The Di Bella Method (A Fixed Part - Alpha tocopheryl acetate/Vitamin E, approximately 20 grams per day orally);

- Cancer and Vitamin E (analogues and/or derivatives) and cancer - In vitro, review and in vivo publications;

- The Di Bella Method (A Fixed Part - Cyclophosphamide 50mg tablets and/or Hydroxyurea 500mg tablets, one or two per day);

- The Di Bella Method (A Fixed Part - Calcium, 2 grams per day, orally);


- The Synergism of Somatostatin, Melatonin, Vitamins Prolactin and Estrogen Inhibitors Increased Survival, Objective Response and Performance Status In 297 Cases of Breast Cancer;

- Complete objective response, stable for 5 years, with the Di Bella Method, of multiple-metastatic carcinoma of the breast;

- Evaluation of the safety and efficacy of the first-line treatment with somatostatin combined with melatonin, retinoids, vitamin D3, and low doses of cyclophosphamide in 20 cases of breast cancer: a preliminary report;

- The Di Bella Method (DBM) improved survival, objective response and performance status in a retrospective observational clinical study on 122 cases of breast cancer;

- Complete objective response to biological therapy of plurifocal breast carcinoma;

- A retrospective observational study on cases of anaplastic brain tumors treated with the Di Bella Method: A rationale and effectiveness;

- Recurrent Glioblastoma Multiforme (grade IV – WHO 2007): a case of complete objective response achieved by means of the concomitant administration of Somatostatin and Octreotide – Retinoids – Vitamin E – Vitamin D3 – Vitamin C – Melatonin – D2 R agonists (Di Bella Method – DBM) associated with Temozolomide;

- The Di Bella Method DBM improved survival objective response and performance status in a retrospective observational clinical study on 23 tumours of the head and neck;

- Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia: Long-Lasting Remission with Combination of Cyclophosphamide, Somatostatin, Bromocriptine, Retinoids, Melatonin, and ACTH;

- Somatostatin, retinoids, melatonin, vitamin D, bromocriptine, and cyclophosphamide in advanced non-small-cell lung cancer patients with low performance status;

- Somatostatin, retinoids, melatonin, vitamin D, bromocriptine, and cyclophosphamide in chemotherapy-pretreated patients with advanced lung adenocarcinoma and low performance status;

- Observations on the Report of a case of pulmonary adenocarcinoma with lymph node, hepatic and osseus metastasis;

- Pleural Mesothelioma: clinical records on 11 patients treated with Di Bella's Method;

- Malignant pleural mesothelioma, stage T3-T4. Consideration of a case study;

- Excellent result in a Mesothelioma case treated exclusively with Di Bella Method for over 4 years and still treatment with positive results;

- A case of advanced Multiple Myeloma treated with Di Bella Method (DBM) into total remission for 13 years;

- Neuroblastoma: Complete objective response to biological treatment;

- Cyclophosphamide plus Somatostatin, Bromocriptin, Retinoids, Melatonin and ACTH in the Treatment of Low-grade Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphomas at Advanced Stage: Results of a Phase II Trial;

- Relapse of High-Grade Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma After Autologous Stem Cell Transplantation: A Case Successfully Treated With Cyclophosphamide Plus Somatostatin, Bromocriptine, Melatonin, Retinoids, and ACTH;

- Low-grade Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma at Advanced Stage: A Case Successfully Treated With Cyclophosphamide Plus Somatostatin, Bromocriptine, Retinoids, and Melatonin;

- The Di Bella Method (DBM) improved survival, objective response and performance status in a retrospective observational clinical study on 55 cases of Lymphomas;

- Large B-cells Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, Stage IV-AE: a Case Report;

- Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, Stage III-B-E: a Case Report;

- Oesophageal squamocellular carcinoma: a complete and objective response;

- Pancreatic Adenocarcinoma: clinical records on 17 patients treated with Di Bella's Method;

- The Di Bella Method Increases by the 30% the survival rate for Pancreas tumors and for this reason should be proposed as first line therapy for this type of cancer;

- The Di Bella Method (DBM) in the treatment of prostate cancer: a preliminary retrospective study of 16 patients and a review of the literature;

- A retrospective observational study on cases of Osteosarcomas treated with a multitherapy: The rationale and effectiveness;

- A Retrospective Observational Study on Cases of Sarcoma Treated with the Di Bella Method: Rationale and Effectiveness;

- Congenital fibrosarcoma in complete remission with Somatostatin, Retinoids, Vitamin D3, Vitamin E, Vitamin C, Melatonin, Calcium, Chondroitin sulfate associated with low doses of Cyclophosphamide in a 14-year Follow Up.