Mitochondrial ultrastructural and molecular changes induced by zidovudine in rat hearts

W. Lewis, T. Papoian, B. Gonzalez, H. Louie, D. P. Kelly, R. M. Payne, W. W. Grody

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126 Scopus citations


Zidovudine (azidothymidine (AZT)) inhibits human immunodeficiency virus replication, prolongs survival, and delays progression of acquired immune deficiency syndrome. We determined AZT-induced molecular and ultrastructural changes in the rat heart. Rats (3 per group) were given drinking water with or without AZT (0.2 to 1.0 mg/ml; 29 to 102 mg/kg/day). After 21, 35, or 49 days, hearts were glutaraldehyde-fixed by abdominal aortic perfusion, processed, and examined by transmission electron microscopy. In parallel, myocardial RNA was extracted from hearts (AZT dose: 1 mg/ml; 35 days) and subjected to Northern analysis using cDNA probes for: α(c)-actin, troponin C, mitochondrial creatine kinase and malate dehydrogenase, a portion of the mitochondrial genome containing cytochrome b coding region (pMM26), and glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase. Results showed marked and widespread cardiac mitochondrial swelling with fractured and disrupted cristae after 35 days of 1 mg/ml AZT. After a 14-day recovery, these ultrastructural defects did not reverse. Changes were not present in myocardium after 21 days of AZT nor after 35 days of lower dose AZT (0.2 mg/ml). Mitochondrial cytochrome b mRNA expression was depressed in AZT-treated rat hearts (35 days; 1 mg/ml AZT). mRNAs encoding glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase, α(c)-actin, troponin C, mitochondrial creatine kinase, malate dehydrogenase, and mitochondrial ribosomal RNAs remained unchanged. AZT disrupts cardiac mitochondrial ultrastructure and expression of mitochondrial cytochrome b mRNA in a dose- and time-dependent fashion. The mechanism of AZT cardiotoxicity may relate to inhibition of mitochondrial DNA replication (at the level of DNA polymerase gamma) as postulated by others.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)228-236
Number of pages9
JournalLaboratory Investigation
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 1991
Externally publishedYes


  • AIDS
  • Azidothymidine
  • Cytochrome b
  • Dilated heart muscle disease (cardiomyopathy)
  • Messenger RNA
  • Miochondria

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology

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    Lewis, W., Papoian, T., Gonzalez, B., Louie, H., Kelly, D. P., Payne, R. M., & Grody, W. W. (1991). Mitochondrial ultrastructural and molecular changes induced by zidovudine in rat hearts. Laboratory Investigation, 65(2), 228-236.