Unraveling the Potential Role of Glutathione in Multiple Forms of Cell Death in Cancer Therapy

Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2019 Jun 10:2019:3150145. doi: 10.1155/2019/3150145. eCollection 2019.


Glutathione is the principal intracellular antioxidant buffer against oxidative stress and mainly exists in the forms of reduced glutathione (GSH) and oxidized glutathione (GSSG). The processes of glutathione synthesis, transport, utilization, and metabolism are tightly controlled to maintain intracellular glutathione homeostasis and redox balance. As for cancer cells, they exhibit a greater ROS level than normal cells in order to meet the enhanced metabolism and vicious proliferation; meanwhile, they also have to develop an increased antioxidant defense system to cope with the higher oxidant state. Growing numbers of studies have implicated that altering the glutathione antioxidant system is associated with multiple forms of programmed cell death in cancer cells. In this review, we firstly focus on glutathione homeostasis from the perspectives of glutathione synthesis, distribution, transportation, and metabolism. Then, we discuss the function of glutathione in the antioxidant process. Afterwards, we also summarize the recent advance in the understanding of the mechanism by which glutathione plays a key role in multiple forms of programmed cell death, including apoptosis, necroptosis, ferroptosis, and autophagy. Finally, we highlight the glutathione-targeting therapeutic approaches toward cancers. A comprehensive review on the glutathione homeostasis and the role of glutathione depletion in programmed cell death provide insight into the redox-based research concerning cancer therapeutics.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cell Death
  • Glutathione / pharmacology
  • Glutathione / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Neoplasms / therapy*


  • Glutathione