Glutathione depletion in HIV-infected patients: role of cysteine deficiency and effect of oral N-acetylcysteine

AIDS. 1992 Aug;6(8):815-9.


Objective: To determine whether a single oral dose of N-acetylcysteine corrects the deficiency of cysteine and glutathione in plasma and mononuclear cells of HIV-infected patients.

Design: Pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic study.

Methods: Cysteine and glutathione were measured in plasma and peripheral blood mononuclear cells of patients at different stages of HIV infection before and after a single oral dose of N-acetylcysteine.

Results: At baseline, the plasma concentrations of glutathione and cysteine were significantly lower in HIV-infected patients than in healthy controls. The intracellular concentration of glutathione correlated with the absolute CD4 lymphocyte counts: the concentration of glutathione in mononuclear cells was significantly lower in patients with more advanced immunodeficiency. A single oral dose of N-acetylcysteine increased the concentration of cysteine in plasma and mononuclear cells of HIV-infected patients. Four hours after N-acetylcysteine administration, intracellular glutathione concentrations in the patients were moderately higher than at baseline and at 2 h.

Conclusions: Oral N-acetylcysteine transiently increases the concentrations of cysteine and glutathione in mononuclear cells of patients with HIV infection. A sustained increase in intracellular cysteine may be necessary to normalize intracellular glutathione. This may be accomplished by repeat administration of N-acetylcysteine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcysteine / pharmacology*
  • Administration, Oral
  • Cysteine / blood
  • Cysteine / deficiency*
  • Cysteine / drug effects
  • Glutathione / blood
  • Glutathione / deficiency*
  • Glutathione / drug effects
  • HIV Infections / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / drug effects
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / metabolism
  • Male


  • Glutathione
  • Cysteine
  • Acetylcysteine