Glutathione metabolism in cancer progression and treatment resistance

J Cell Biol. 2018 Jul 2;217(7):2291-2298. doi: 10.1083/jcb.201804161. Epub 2018 Jun 18.


Glutathione (GSH) is the most abundant antioxidant found in living organisms and has multiple functions, most of which maintain cellular redox homeostasis. GSH preserves sufficient levels of cysteine and detoxifies xenobiotics while also conferring therapeutic resistance to cancer cells. However, GSH metabolism plays both beneficial and pathogenic roles in a variety of malignancies. It is crucial to the removal and detoxification of carcinogens, and alterations in this pathway can have a profound effect on cell survival. Excess GSH promotes tumor progression, where elevated levels correlate with increased metastasis. In this review, we discuss recent studies that focus on deciphering the role of GSH in tumor initiation and progression as well as mechanisms underlying how GSH imparts treatment resistance to growing cancers. Targeting GSH synthesis/utilization therefore represents a potential means of rendering tumor cells more susceptible to different treatment options such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Antioxidants / metabolism*
  • Cysteine / metabolism
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm / genetics*
  • Glutathione / metabolism*
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Signal Transduction / genetics
  • Xenobiotics / metabolism


  • Antioxidants
  • Xenobiotics
  • Glutathione
  • Cysteine