Apoptosis and glutathione: beyond an antioxidant

Cell Death Differ. 2009 Oct;16(10):1303-14. doi: 10.1038/cdd.2009.107. Epub 2009 Aug 7.


Apoptosis is a conserved homeostatic process critical for organ and tissue morphogenesis, development, and senescence. This form of programmed cell death also participates in the etiology of several human diseases including cancer, neurodegenerative, and autoimmune disorders. Although the signaling pathways leading to the progression of apoptosis have been extensively characterized, recent studies highlight the regulatory role of changes in the intracellular milieu (permissive apoptotic environment) in the efficient activation of the cell death machinery. In particular, glutathione (GSH) depletion is a common feature of apoptotic cell death triggered by a wide variety of stimuli including activation of death receptors, stress, environmental agents, and cytotoxic drugs. Although initial studies suggested that GSH depletion was only a byproduct of oxidative stress generated during cell death, recent discoveries suggest that GSH depletion and post-translational modifications of proteins through glutathionylation are critical regulators of apoptosis. Here, we reformulate these emerging paradigms into our current understanding of cell death mechanisms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antioxidants / metabolism*
  • Apoptosis*
  • Disease Progression
  • Glutathione / metabolism*
  • Glutathione / physiology
  • Humans
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Protein Processing, Post-Translational
  • Proteins / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction


  • Antioxidants
  • Proteins
  • Glutathione