Glutathione in defense and signaling: lessons from a small thiol

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2002 Nov;973:488-504. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2002.tb04690.x.


The mechanisms of thiol metabolism and chemistry have particular relevance to both cellular defenses against toxicant exposure and to redox signaling. Here, we will focus on glutathione (GSH), the major endogenous low- molecular-weight nonprotein thiol synthesized de novo in mammalian cells. The major pathways for GSH metabolism in defense of the cell are reduction of hydroperoxides by glutathione peroxidases (GSHPx) and some peroxiredoxins, which yield glutathione disulfide (GSSG), and conjugation reactions catalyzed by glutathione-S-transferases. GSSG can be reduced to GSH by glutathione reductase, but glutathione conjugates are excreted from cells. The exoenzyme gamma-glutamyltranspeptidase (GGT) removes the glutamate from extracellular GSH, producing cysteinyl-glycine from which a dipeptidase then generates cysteine, an amino acid often limiting for de novo GSH synthesis. Synthesis of GSH from the constituent amino acids occurs in two regulated, enzymatically catalyzed steps. The signaling pathways leading to activation of the transcription factors that regulate these genes are a current area of intense investigation. The elucidation of the signaling for GSH biosynthesis in human bronchial epithelial cells in response to 4-hydroxynonenal (4HNE), an end product of lipid peroxidation, will be used as an example. GSH also participates in redox signaling through the removal of H(2)O(2), which has the properties of a second messenger, and by reversing the formation of sulfenic acid, a moiety formed by reaction of critical cysteine residues in signaling proteins with H(2)O(2). Disruption of GSH metabolism will therefore have major a impact upon function of cells in terms of both defense and normal physiology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aldehydes / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Antioxidants / metabolism
  • Cysteine / isolation & purification
  • Environment
  • Glutathione / chemistry
  • Glutathione / metabolism
  • Glutathione / physiology*
  • Glutathione Disulfide / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*


  • Aldehydes
  • Antioxidants
  • Glutathione
  • 4-hydroxy-2-nonenal
  • Cysteine
  • Glutathione Disulfide