Metabolism and functions of glutathione in brain

Prog Neurobiol. 2000 Dec;62(6):649-71. doi: 10.1016/s0301-0082(99)00060-x.


The tripeptide glutathione is the thiol compound present in the highest concentration in cells of all organs. Glutathione has many physiological functions including its involvement in the defense against reactive oxygen species. The cells of the human brain consume about 20% of the oxygen utilized by the body but constitute only 2% of the body weight. Consequently, reactive oxygen species which are continuously generated during oxidative metabolism will be generated in high rates within the brain. Therefore, the detoxification of reactive oxygen species is an essential task within the brain and the involvement of the antioxidant glutathione in such processes is very important. The main focus of this review article will be recent results on glutathione metabolism of different brain cell types in culture. The glutathione content of brain cells depends strongly on the availability of precursors for glutathione. Different types of brain cells prefer different extracellular glutathione precursors. Glutathione is involved in the disposal of peroxides by brain cells and in the protection against reactive oxygen species. In coculture astroglial cells protect other neural cell types against the toxicity of various compounds. One mechanism for this interaction is the supply by astroglial cells of glutathione precursors to neighboring cells. Recent results confirm the prominent role of astrocytes in glutathione metabolism and the defense against reactive oxygen species in brain. These results also suggest an involvement of a compromised astroglial glutathione system in the oxidative stress reported for neurological disorders.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Astrocytes / cytology
  • Astrocytes / metabolism
  • Biological Transport / physiology
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Cell Communication / physiology
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Extracellular Space / metabolism
  • Glutathione / deficiency
  • Glutathione / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Microglia / cytology
  • Microglia / metabolism
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / metabolism
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Oligodendroglia / cytology
  • Oligodendroglia / metabolism
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism


  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Glutathione