The changing faces of glutathione, a cellular protagonist

Biochem Pharmacol. 2003 Oct 15;66(8):1499-503. doi: 10.1016/s0006-2952(03)00504-5.


Glutathione (GSH) has been described for a long time just as a defensive reagent against the action of toxic xenobiotics (drugs, pollutants, carcinogens). As a prototype antioxidant, it has been involved in cell protection from the noxious effect of excess oxidant stress, both directly and as a cofactor of glutathione peroxidases. In addition, it has long been known that GSH is capable of forming disulfide bonds with cysteine residues of proteins, and the relevance of this mechanism ("S-glutathionylation") in regulation of protein function is currently receiving confirmation in a series of research lines. Rather paradoxically, however, recent studies have also highlighted the ability of GSH-and notably of its catabolites-to promote oxidative processes, by participating in metal ion-mediated reactions eventually leading to formation of reactive oxygen species and free radicals. A crucial role in these phenomena is played by membrane bound gamma-glutamyltransferase activity. The significance of GSH as a major factor in regulation of cell life, proliferation, and death, should be regarded as the integrated result of all these roles it can play.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Glutathione / metabolism*
  • Glutathione Peroxidase / metabolism*
  • Glutathione Transferase / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Metals / metabolism
  • Sulfhydryl Compounds / metabolism


  • Metals
  • Sulfhydryl Compounds
  • Glutathione Peroxidase
  • Glutathione Transferase
  • Glutathione