The widely used drug diclofenac can cause serious heart, liver or kidney injury that might be related to its ability to cause mitochondrial dysfunction. Using Saccharomyces cerevisiae as a model system, we studied the mechanisms of diclofenac toxicity and the role of mitochondria therein. We found that diclofenac reduced cell growth and viability and increased levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS). Strains increasingly relying on respiration for their energy production showed enhanced sensitivity to diclofenac. Furthermore, oxygen consumption was inhibited by diclofenac, suggesting that diclofenac inhibits respiration. To identify the site of respiratory inhibition, we investigated the effects of deletion of respiratory chain subunits on diclofenac toxicity. Whereas deletion of most subunits had no effect, loss of either Rip1p of complex III or Cox9p of complex IV resulted in enhanced resistance to diclofenac. In these deletion strains, diclofenac did not increase ROS formation as severely as in wild type. Our data are consistent with a mechanism of toxicity in which diclofenac inhibits respiration by interfering with Rip1p and Cox9p in the respiratory chain, resulting in ROS production that causes cell death.
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