GSH transport in mitochondria: defense against TNF-induced oxidative stress and alcohol-induced defect

Am J Physiol. 1997 Jul;273(1 Pt 1):G7-17. doi: 10.1152/ajpgi.1997.273.1.G7.


Mitochondria generate reactive oxygen species (ROS) as byproducts of molecular oxygen consumption in the electron transport chain. Most cellular oxygen is consumed in the cytochrome-c oxidase complex of the respiratory chain, which does not generate reactive species. The ubiquinone pool of complex III of respiration is the major site within the respiratory chain that generates superoxide anion as a result of a single electron transfer to molecular oxygen. Superoxide anion and hydrogen peroxide, derived from the former by superoxide dismutase, are precursor of hydroxyl radical through the participation of transition metals. Glutathione (GSH) in mitochondria is the only defense available to metabolize hydrogen peroxide. A small fraction of the total cellular GSH pool is sequestered in mitochondria by the action of a carrier that transports GSH from the cytosol to the mitochondrial matrix. Mitochondria are not only one of the main cellular sources of ROS, they also are a key target of ROS. Mitochondria are subcellular targets of cytokines, especially tumor necrosis factor (TNF); depletion of GSH in this organelle renders the cell more susceptible to oxidative stress originating in mitochondria. Ceramide generated during TNF signaling leads to increased production of ROS in mitochondria. Chronic ethanol-fed hepatocytes are selectively depleted of GSH in mitochondria due to a defective operation of the carrier responsible for transport of GSH from the cytosol into the mitochondrial matrix. Under these conditions, limitation of the mitochondrial GSH pool represents a critical contributory factor that sensitizes alcoholic hepatocytes to the prooxidant effects of cytokines and prooxidants generated by oxidative metabolism of ethanol. S-adenosyl-L-methionine prevents development of the ethanol-induced defect. The mitochondrial GSH carrier has been functionally expressed in Xenopus laevis oocytes microinjected with mRNA from rat liver. This critical carrier displays functional characteristics distinct from other plasma membrane GSH carriers, such as its ATP dependency, inhibitor specificity, and the size class of mRNA that encode the corresponding carrier, suggesting that the mitochondrial carrier of GSH is a gene product distinct from the plasma membrane transporters.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Transport
  • Cytosol / metabolism
  • Electron Transport Complex III / metabolism
  • Ethanol / pharmacology*
  • Glutathione / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Liver / drug effects
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Mitochondria / drug effects
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Mitochondria, Liver / drug effects
  • Mitochondria, Liver / metabolism
  • Models, Biological
  • Oxidative Stress / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / pharmacology
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / physiology*


  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • Ethanol
  • Electron Transport Complex III
  • Glutathione