Biosynthesis and functions of mycothiol, the unique protective thiol of Actinobacteria

Microbiol Mol Biol Rev. 2008 Sep;72(3):471-94. doi: 10.1128/MMBR.00008-08.


Mycothiol (MSH; AcCys-GlcN-Ins) is the major thiol found in Actinobacteria and has many of the functions of glutathione, which is the dominant thiol in other bacteria and eukaryotes but is absent in Actinobacteria. MSH functions as a protected reserve of cysteine and in the detoxification of alkylating agents, reactive oxygen and nitrogen species, and antibiotics. MSH also acts as a thiol buffer which is important in maintaining the highly reducing environment within the cell and protecting against disulfide stress. The pathway of MSH biosynthesis involves production of GlcNAc-Ins-P by MSH glycosyltransferase (MshA), dephosphorylation by the MSH phosphatase MshA2 (not yet identified), deacetylation by MshB to produce GlcN-Ins, linkage to Cys by the MSH ligase MshC, and acetylation by MSH synthase (MshD), yielding MSH. Studies of MSH mutants have shown that the MSH glycosyltransferase MshA and the MSH ligase MshC are required for MSH production, whereas mutants in the MSH deacetylase MshB and the acetyltransferase (MSH synthase) MshD produce some MSH and/or a closely related thiol. Current evidence indicates that MSH biosynthesis is controlled by transcriptional regulation mediated by sigma(B) and sigma(R) in Streptomyces coelicolor. Identified enzymes of MSH metabolism include mycothione reductase (disulfide reductase; Mtr), the S-nitrosomycothiol reductase MscR, the MSH S-conjugate amidase Mca, and an MSH-dependent maleylpyruvate isomerase. Mca cleaves MSH S-conjugates to generate mercapturic acids (AcCySR), excreted from the cell, and GlcN-Ins, used for resynthesis of MSH. The phenotypes of MSH-deficient mutants indicate the occurrence of one or more MSH-dependent S-transferases, peroxidases, and mycoredoxins, which are important targets for future studies. Current evidence suggests that several MSH biosynthetic and metabolic enzymes are potential targets for drugs against tuberculosis. The functions of MSH in antibiotic-producing streptomycetes and in bioremediation are areas for future study.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Actinobacteria / classification
  • Actinobacteria / enzymology
  • Actinobacteria / genetics
  • Actinobacteria / metabolism*
  • Bacterial Proteins / chemistry
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • Cysteine / biosynthesis*
  • Cysteine / chemistry
  • Cysteine / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial
  • Glycopeptides / biosynthesis*
  • Glycopeptides / chemistry
  • Glycopeptides / metabolism*
  • Inositol / biosynthesis*
  • Inositol / chemistry
  • Inositol / metabolism*
  • Mutation


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Glycopeptides
  • mycothiol
  • Inositol
  • Cysteine