New aspects of glutathione metabolism and translocation in mammals

Ciba Found Symp. 1979;(72):135-61. doi: 10.1002/9780470720554.ch9.


An appreciable fraction of the sulphur present in the mammal occurs in the form of glutathione, whose concentration in various tissues ranges from about 0.8 to about 8 mM; the extracellular concentration of glutatione (largely present as the disulphide) is in the micromolecular range. The synthesis of glutathione and its utilization take place by the reactions of the gamma-glutamyl cycle, which include those catalysed by gamma-glutamylcysteine and glutathione synthetases, gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase, cysteinylglycinase, gamma-glutamyl cyclotransferease, and 5-oxoprolinase. gamma-Glutamyl transpeptidase catalyses transpeptidation (with amino acids and dipeptides) and hydrolysis reactions with both blutathione and its disulphide. The transpeptidase is membrane-boudn, apparently to the outer surface of the cell, and is found in certain epithelial cells in anatomical sites that are involved in transport and secretory activities (e.g., renal tubule, jejunal villi, choroid plexus, ciliary body). Evidence that the reactions of the gamma-glutamyl cycle take place in vivo has come from studies with labelled metabolites and selective enzyme inhibitors, and on inborn errors of metabolism associated with specific enzyme deficiencies. Inhibition in vivo of gamma-glutamyl cyclotransferase and 5-oxoprolinase leads, respectively, to decreased and increased renal levels of 5-oxoproline. Administration of a specific inhibitor of gamma-glutamylcysteine synthetase, such as buthionine sulphoximine, leads to a rapid decline in the glutamylcysteine synthetase, such as buthionine sulphoximine, leads to a rapid decline in the glutathione level of the kidney and other tissues, reflecting the appreciable rate of glutathione utilization. When gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase is inhibited in vivo by injection of L- or D-gamma-glutamyl-(o-carboxy)phenylhydrazide, there is extensive glutathionuria and the blood plasma level of glutathione increases. Studies in which inhibitors of glutathione synthesis and transpeptidation were given to mice showed that transport of intracellular glutathione to membrane-bound transpeptidase is a discrete step in the gamma-glutamyl cycle, and that the level of plasma glutatione reflects (a) synthesis of glutathione and its export by liver, muscle, and other tissues and (b) utilization of glutatione by kidney and other tissues. Studies on several lymphoid cell lines show that these cells also actively translocate glutathione out of the cell. A summary scheme is given for the metabolism of glutathione in which glutathione is translocated to the cell membrane where it may be utilized as such or oxidized to glutathione disulphide. Oxidation is inhibited, and transpeptidation is promoted by the presence of amino acids that are substrates of the transpeptidase. Glutathione exported from cells that have membrane-bound transpeptidase may be recovered by the cell transport of gamma-glutamyl amino acids and free amino acids...

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Binding Sites
  • Catalysis
  • Cell Line
  • Glutamate-Cysteine Ligase / metabolism
  • Glutathione / biosynthesis
  • Glutathione / metabolism*
  • Glutathione Synthase / metabolism
  • Kidney / enzymology
  • Mammals / metabolism*
  • Tissue Distribution / drug effects
  • gamma-Glutamyltransferase / metabolism


  • gamma-Glutamyltransferase
  • Glutamate-Cysteine Ligase
  • Glutathione Synthase
  • Glutathione