Stimulation of de novo glutathione synthesis by nitrofurantoin for enhanced resilience of hepatocytes

Cell Biol Toxicol. 2022 Oct;38(5):847-864. doi: 10.1007/s10565-021-09610-3. Epub 2021 May 22.


Toxicity is not only a function of damage mechanisms, but is also determined by cellular resilience factors. Glutathione has been reported as essential element to counteract negative influences. The present work hence pursued the question how intracellular glutathione can be elevated transiently to render cells more resistant toward harmful conditions. The antibiotic nitrofurantoin (NFT) was identified to stimulate de novo synthesis of glutathione in the human hepatoma cell line, HepG2, and in primary human hepatocytes. In intact cells, activation of NFT yielded a radical anion, which subsequently initiated nuclear-factor-erythroid 2-related-factor-2 (Nrf2)-dependent induction of glutamate cysteine ligase (GCL). Application of siRNA-based intervention approaches confirmed the involvement of the Nrf2-GCL axis in the observed elevation of intracellular glutathione levels. Quantitative activation of Nrf2 by NFT, and the subsequent rise in glutathione, were similar as observed with the potent experimental Nrf2 activator diethyl maleate. The elevation of glutathione levels, observed even 48 h after withdrawal of NFT, rendered cells resistant to different stressors such as the mitochondrial inhibitor rotenone, the redox cycler paraquat, the proteasome inhibitors MG-132 or bortezomib, or high concentrations of NFT. Repurpose of the antibiotic NFT as activator of Nrf2 could thus be a promising strategy for a transient and targeted activation of the endogenous antioxidant machinery. Graphical abstract.

Keywords: Cytochrome P450 reductase; Glutathione; Hepatocytes; Nitrofurantoin; Nrf2.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / metabolism
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology
  • Antioxidants / pharmacology
  • Bortezomib / pharmacology
  • Glutamate-Cysteine Ligase* / metabolism
  • Glutamate-Cysteine Ligase* / pharmacology
  • Glutathione / metabolism
  • Hepatocytes / metabolism
  • Humans
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2* / metabolism
  • Nitrofurantoin / metabolism
  • Nitrofurantoin / pharmacology
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Paraquat / metabolism
  • Paraquat / pharmacology
  • Proteasome Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • RNA, Small Interfering / metabolism
  • Rotenone / metabolism
  • Rotenone / pharmacology


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Antioxidants
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2
  • Proteasome Inhibitors
  • RNA, Small Interfering
  • Rotenone
  • Bortezomib
  • Nitrofurantoin
  • Glutamate-Cysteine Ligase
  • Glutathione
  • Paraquat