Background: The tripeptide γ-glutamylcysteinylglycine or glutathione (GSH) has demonstrated protective abilities against the detrimental effects of oxidative stress within the human body, as well as protection against infection by exogenous microbial organisms.
Scope of review: In this review we describe how GSH works to modulate the behavior of many cells including the cells of the immune system, augmenting the innate and the adaptive immunity as well as conferring protection against microbial, viral and parasitic infections. This article unveils the direct antimicrobial effects of GSH in controlling Mycobacterium tuberculosis (M. tb) infection within macrophages. In addition, we summarize the effects of GSH in enhancing the functional activity of various immune cells such as natural killer (NK) cells and T cells resulting in inhibition in the growth of M. tb inside monocytes and macrophages. Most importantly we correlate the decreased GSH levels previously observed in individuals with pulmonary tuberculosis (TB) with an increase in the levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines which aid in the growth of M. tb.
Major conclusions: In conclusion, this review provides detailed information on the protective integral effects of GSH along with its therapeutic effects as they relate to the human immune system and health.
General significance: It is important to note that the increases in the levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines are not only detrimental to the host due to the sequel that follow such as fever and cachexia, but also due to the alteration in the functions of immune cells. The additional protective effects of GSH are evident after sequel that follows the depletion of this antioxidant. This is evident in a condition such as Cystic Fibrosis (CF) where an increased oxidant burden inhibits the clearance of the affecting organism and results in oxidant-induced anti-protease inhibition. GSH has a similar protective effect in protozoans as it does in human cells. Thus GSH is integral to the survival of some of the protozoans because some protozoans utilize the compound trypanothione [T(SH)2] as their main antioxidant. T(SH)2 in turn requires GSH for its production. Hence a decrease in the levels of GSH (by a known inhibitor such as buthionine sulfoximine [BSO] can have adverse effects of the protozoan parasites. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled Cellular functions of glutathione.
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