Glutathione in cancer biology and therapy

Crit Rev Clin Lab Sci. 2006;43(2):143-81. doi: 10.1080/10408360500523878.


The glutathione (GSH) content of cancer cells is particularly relevant in regulating mutagenic mechanisms, DNA synthesis, growth, and multidrug and radiation resistance. In malignant tumors, as compared with normal tissues, that resistance associates in most cases with higher GSH levels within these cancer cells. Thus, approaches to cancer treatment based on modulation of GSH should control possible growth-associated changes in GSH content and synthesis in these cells. Despite the potential benefits for cancer therapy of a selective GSH-depleting strategy, such a methodology has remained elusive up to now. Metastatic spread, not primary tumor burden, is the leading cause of cancer death. For patient prognosis to improve, new systemic therapies capable of effectively inhibiting the outgrowth of seeded tumor cells are needed. Interaction of metastatic cells with the vascular endothelium activates local release of proinflammatory cytokines, which act as signals promoting cancer cell adhesion, extravasation, and proliferation. Recent work shows that a high percentage of metastatic cells with high GSH levels survive the combined nitrosative and oxidative stresses elicited by the vascular endothelium and possibly by macrophages and granulocytes. ?-Glutamyl transpeptidase overexpression and an inter-organ flow of GSH (where the liver plays a central role), by increasing cysteine availability for tumor GSH synthesis, function in combination as a metastatic-growth promoting mechanism. The present review focuses on an analysis of links among GSH, adaptive responses to stress, molecular mechanisms of invasive cancer cell survival and death, and sensitization of metastatic cells to therapy. Experimental evidence shows that acceleration of GSH efflux facilitates selective GSH depletion in metastatic cells.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Apoptosis / radiation effects
  • Buthionine Sulfoximine / metabolism
  • Buthionine Sulfoximine / pharmacology
  • Genes, bcl-2 / drug effects
  • Genes, bcl-2 / genetics
  • Glutathione / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Neoplasms / therapy*


  • Buthionine Sulfoximine
  • Glutathione