Glutathionylation of the p50 subunit of NF-kappaB: a mechanism for redox-induced inhibition of DNA binding

Biochemistry. 2001 Nov 27;40(47):14134-42. doi: 10.1021/bi011459o.


The cellular redox status can modify the function of NF-kappaB, whose DNA-binding activity can be inhibited by oxidative, nitrosative, and nonphysiological agents such as diamide, iodoacetamide, or N-ethylmaleimide. This inhibitory effect has been proposed to be mediated by the oxidation of a conserved cysteine in its DNA-binding domain (Cys62) through unknown biochemical mechanisms. The aim of this work was to identify new oxidative modifications in Cys62 involved in the redox regulation of the NF-kappaB subunit p50. To address this problem, we exposed p50, both the native form (p50WT) and its corresponding mutant in Cys62 (C62S), to changes in the redox pair glutathione/glutathione disulfide (GSH/GSSG) ratio ranging from 100 to 0.1, which may correspond to intracellular (patho)physiological states. A ratio between 1 and 0.1 resulted in a 40-70% inhibition of the DNA binding of p50WT, having no effect on the C62S mutant. Mass spectrometry studies, molecular modeling, and incorporation of (3)H-glutathione assays were consistent with an S-glutathionylation of p50WT in Cys62. Maximal incorporation of (3)H-glutathione to the p50WT and C62S was of 0.4 and 0.1 mol of (3)H-GSH/mol of protein, respectively. Because this covalent glutathione incorporation did not show a perfect correlation with the observed inhibition in the DNA-binding activity of p50WT, we searched for other modifications contributing to the maximal inhibition. MALDI-TOF and nanospray-QIT studies revealed the formation of sulfenic acid as an alternative or concomitant oxidative modification of p50. In summary, these data are consistent with new oxidative modifications in p50 that could be involved in redox regulatory mechanisms for NF-kappaB. These postranslational modifications could represent a molecular basis for the coupling of pro-oxidative stimuli to gene expression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Disulfides
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Glutathione / metabolism*
  • Models, Molecular
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • NF-kappa B / antagonists & inhibitors
  • NF-kappa B / genetics
  • NF-kappa B / metabolism*
  • NF-kappa B p50 Subunit
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Peptide Fragments / genetics
  • Peptide Fragments / metabolism
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Processing, Post-Translational*
  • Protein Subunits
  • Recombinant Proteins / metabolism
  • Sulfenic Acids


  • Disulfides
  • NF-kappa B
  • NF-kappa B p50 Subunit
  • Peptide Fragments
  • Protein Subunits
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Sulfenic Acids
  • Glutathione