Intermediate Cu(II)-Thiolate Species in the Reduction of Cu(II)GHK by Glutathione: A Handy Chelate for Biological Cu(II) Reduction

Inorg Chem. 2021 Dec 6;60(23):18048-18057. doi: 10.1021/acs.inorgchem.1c02669. Epub 2021 Nov 15.


Gly-His-Lys (GHK) is a tripeptide present in the human bloodstream that exhibits a number of biological functions. Its activity is attributed to the copper-complexed form, Cu(II)GHK. Little is known, however, about the molecular aspects of the mechanism of its action. Here, we examined the reaction of Cu(II)GHK with reduced glutathione (GSH), which is the strongest reductant naturally occurring in human plasma. Spectroscopic techniques (UV-vis, CD, EPR, and NMR) and cyclic voltammetry helped unravel the reaction mechanism. The impact of temperature, GSH concentration, oxygen access, and the presence of ternary ligands on the reaction were explored. The transient GSH-Cu(II)GHK complex was found to be an important reaction intermediate. The kinetic and redox properties of this complex, including tuning of the reduction rate by ternary ligands, suggest that it may provide a missing link in copper trafficking as a precursor of Cu(I) ions, for example, for their acquisition by the CTR1 cellular copper transporter.

MeSH terms

  • Coordination Complexes / blood
  • Coordination Complexes / chemistry
  • Coordination Complexes / metabolism*
  • Copper / blood
  • Copper / chemistry
  • Copper / metabolism*
  • Glutathione / blood
  • Glutathione / chemistry
  • Glutathione / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Molecular Structure
  • Oligopeptides / blood
  • Oligopeptides / chemistry
  • Oligopeptides / metabolism*
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Sulfhydryl Compounds / blood
  • Sulfhydryl Compounds / chemistry
  • Sulfhydryl Compounds / metabolism*


  • Coordination Complexes
  • Oligopeptides
  • Sulfhydryl Compounds
  • Copper
  • Glutathione