The mercaptopyruvate pathway in cysteine catabolism: a physiologic role and related disease of the multifunctional 3-mercaptopyruvate sulfurtransferase

Curr Med Chem. 2006;13(10):1219-30. doi: 10.2174/092986706776360914.


The conversion of cysteine to 3-sulfino-alanine is a major pathway in cysteine catabolism. Cysteine dioxygenase catalyzes the reaction and dietary intake of the essential amino acid methionine and the semi-essential amino acid cysteine increases the level of this enzyme by suppressing enzyme degradation via polyubiquitination. The production of cellular antioxidants such as glutathione, thioredoxin, and their families is important in cysteine metabolism, and these cellular antioxidants have critical roles in the maintenance of the cellular redox status. The mercaptopyruvate pathway, in which cysteine or aspartate transaminase catalyzes the transamination from cysteine to 3-mercaptopyruvate and then 3-mercaptopyruvate sulfurtransferase catalyzes the transsulfuration from 3-mercaptopyruvate to pyruvate, also contributes to maintain the cellular redox. 3-Mercaptopyruvate sulfurtransferase serves as an antioxidant protein: when the enzyme is exposed to stoichiometric amounts of the oxidant hydrogen peroxide, it is inhibited via the formation of low redox sulfenate at the catalytic site cysteine. On the other hand, activity is restored by the reductant dithiothreitol or reduced thioredoxin. 3-Mercaptopyruvate sulfurtransferase also detoxifies cyanide via transsulfuration from a stable persulfide at the catalytic site cysteine, a reaction intermediate, suggesting that cyanide detoxification is not necessarily an enzymatic reaction. Furthermore, a congenital defect of the enzyme causes mercaptolactate-cysteine disulfiduria associated with or without mental retardation, although the pathogenesis remains unclear. These facts suggest that 3-mercaptopyruvate sulfurtransferase has physiologic roles as an antioxidant and a cyanide antidote; is essential for neural function, and participates in cysteine degradation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cysteine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Cysteine / metabolism*
  • Disease*
  • Humans
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Signal Transduction*
  • Sulfurtransferases / metabolism*


  • 3-mercaptopyruvic acid
  • Sulfurtransferases
  • 3-mercaptopyruvate sulphurtransferase
  • Cysteine