Microgravity exposure can cause cardiovascular and immune disorders, muscle atrophy, osteoporosis, and loss of blood and plasma volume. A clinostat device is an effective ground-based tool for simulating microgravity. This study investigated how melatonin suppresses autophagy caused by simulated microgravity in preosteoblast MC3T3-E1 cells. In preosteoblast MC3T3-E1 cells, clinostat rotation induced a significant time-dependent increase in the levels of the autophagosomal marker microtubule-associated protein light chain (LC3), suggesting that autophagy is induced by clinostat rotation in these cells. Melatonin treatment (100, 200 nM) significantly attenuated the clinostat-induced increases in LC3 II protein, and immunofluorescence staining revealed decreased levels of both LC3 and lysosomal-associated membrane protein 2 (Lamp2), indicating a decrease in autophagosomes. The levels of phosphorylation of mammalian target of rapamycin (p-mTOR) (Ser2448), phosphorylation of extracellular signal-regulated kinase (p-ERK), and phosphorylation of serine-threonine protein kinase (p-Akt) (Ser473) were significantly reduced by clinostat rotation. However, their expression levels were significantly recovered by melatonin treatment. Also, expression of the Bcl-2, truncated Bid, Cu/Zn- superoxide dismutase (SOD), and Mn-SOD proteins were significantly increased by melatonin treatment, whereas levels of Bax and catalase were decreased. The endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress marker GRP78/BiP, IRE1α, and p-PERK proteins were significantly reduced by melatonin treatment. Treatment with the competitive melatonin receptor antagonist luzindole blocked melatonin-induced decreases in LC3 II levels. These results demonstrate that melatonin suppresses clinostat-induced autophagy through increasing the phosphorylation of the ERK/Akt/mTOR proteins. Consequently, melatonin appears to be a potential therapeutic agent for regulating microgravity-related bone loss or osteoporosis.
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