Aminoglycosides like gentamicin are among the most commonly used antibiotics in clinical practice and are essential for treating life-threatening tuberculosis and Gram-negative bacterial infections. However, aminoglycosides are also nephrotoxic and ototoxic. Although a number of mechanisms have been proposed, it is still unclear how aminoglycosides induce cell death in auditory sensory epithelia and subsequent deafness. Aminoglycosides bind to various intracellular molecules, such as RNA and phosphoinositides. We hypothesized that aminoglycosides, based on their tissue-specific susceptibility, also bind to intracellular proteins that play a role in drug-induced ototoxicity. By conjugating an aminoglycoside, gentamicin, to agarose beads and conducting a gentamicin-agarose pull-down assay, we have isolated gentamicin-binding proteins (GBPs) from immortalized cells of mouse organ of Corti, HEI-OC1. Mass spectrometry identified calreticulin (CRT) as a GBP. Immunofluorescence revealed that CRT expression is concentrated in strial marginal cells and hair cell stereocilia, primary locations of drug uptake and cytotoxicity in the cochlea. In HEI-OC1 cells treated with gentamicin, reduction of CRT expression using small interfering RNA (siRNA) reduced intracellular drug levels. CRT-deficient mouse embryonic fibroblast (MEF) cells as well as CRT siRNA-transfected wild-type MEFs also had reduced cell viability after gentamicin treatment. A pull-down assay using deletion mutants of CRT determined that the carboxyl C-domain of CRT binds to gentamicin. HeLa cells transfected with CRT C-domain deletion mutant construct were more susceptible to gentamicin-induced cytotoxicity compared with cells transfected with full-length CRT or other deletion mutants. Therefore, we conclude that CRT binding to gentamicin is protective against gentamicin-induced cytotoxicity.
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