Introduction: Reduced glutathione is an important antioxidant in red cells whose depletion may contribute to the pathophysiology of sickle cell disease. The current study was designed to examine the availability of reduced glutathione precursors (glutamate, cysteine, glycine and possibly glutamine) together with the activity of the main transport pathways for their uptake (system ASC for cysteine and glycine; system gly for glycine).
Materials and methods: Blood samples were obtained from normal (HbAA, HbA cells) and sickle cell disease patients (HbSS, HbS cells); amino acids were measured by HPLC; and transporter activity was measured by radioactive tracer fluxes (using serine and glycine for activity of system ASC; and glycine for that of system gly).
Results: Plasma concentrations of cysteine and glycine were increased and concentrations of all amino acids were elevated in HbS cells. The activity of system ASC was increased in HbS cells (both transport capacity and affinity were elevated for serine transport; transport capacity only for glycine). Activity of system gly was also increased (twofold increase in V(max) for glycine flux), though not significantly. Oxygenation also increased the activity of both transporters in normal and HbS cells. CO prevented deoxy-inhibition of glycine transport. Staurosporine (5 microM) inhibited O(2)-stimulated glycine transport through system ASC. It also inhibited the absolute magnitude of transport through system gly, but the O(2)-dependent flux was unaffected.
Conclusion: Low reduced glutathione levels in HbS cells were not due to decreased substrate availability and O(2) stimulated transport of reduced glutathione precursors in both normal and HbS cells, through a mechanism that is likely to involve Hb and possibly protein phosphorylation.