Is glutathione an important neuroprotective effector molecule against amyloid beta toxicity?

Vicki S. Barber, Helen R. Griffiths

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cellular thiols are critical moieties in signal transduction, regulation of gene expression, and ultimately are determinants of specific protein activity. Whilst protein bound thiols are the critical effector molecules, low molecular weight thiols, such as glutathione, play a central role in cytoprotection through (1) direct consumption of oxidants, (2) regeneration of protein thiols and (3) export of glutathione containing mixed disulphides. The brain is particularly vulnerable to oxidative stress, as it consumes 20% of oxygen load, contains high concentrations of polyunsaturated fatty acids and iron in certain regions, and expresses low concentrations of enzymic antioxidants. There is substantial evidence for a role for oxidative stress in neurodegenerative disease, where excitotoxic, redox cycling and mitochondrial dysfunction have been postulated to contribute to the enhanced oxidative load. Others have suggested that loss of important trophic factors may underlie neurodegeneration. However, the two are not mutually exclusive; using cell based model systems, low molecular weight antioxidants have been shown to play an important neuroprotective role in vitro, where neurotrophic factors have been suggested to modulate glutathione levels. Glutathione levels are regulated by substrate availability, synthetic enzyme and metabolic enzyme activity, and by the presence of other antioxidants, which according to the redox potential, consume or regenerate GSH from its oxidised partner. Therefore we have investigated the hypothesis that amyloid beta neurotoxicity is mediated by reactive oxygen species, where trophic factor cytoprotection against oxidative stress is achieved through regulation of glutathione levels. Using PC12 cells as a model system, amyloid beta 25-35 caused a shift in DCF fluorescence after four hours in culture. This fluorescence shift was attenuated by both desferioxamine and NGF. After four hours, cellular glutathione levels were depleted by as much as 75%, however, 24 hours following oxidant exposure, glutathione concentration was restored to twice the concentration seen in controls. NGF prevented both the loss of viability seen after 24 hours amyloid beta treatment and also protected glutathione levels. NGF decreased the total cellular glutathione concentration but did not affect expression of GCS. In conclusion, loss of glutathione precedes cell death in PC12 cells. However, at sublethal doses the surviving fraction respond to oxidative stress by increasing glutathione levels, where this is achieved, at least in part, at the gene level through upregulation of GCS. Whilst NGF does protect against oxidative toxicity, this is not achieved through upregulation of GCS or glutathione.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)215-228
Number of pages14
Issue number1-4
Publication statusPublished - 2003

Bibliographical note

This is a pre-copy-editing, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in BioFactors following peer review. The definitive publisher-authenticated version Barber, Vicki S. and Griffiths, Helen R. (2003) Is glutathione an important neuroprotective effector molecule against amyloid beta toxicity? BioFactors, 17 (1-4). pp. 215-228. ISSN 0951-6433 is available online at:


  • cellular thiol
  • critical moieties
  • signal transduction
  • gene expression
  • protein activity
  • protein
  • thiol
  • effector molecule
  • molecular weight
  • glutathione
  • cytoprotection
  • oxidant
  • regeneration
  • disulphides
  • brain
  • oxidative stress
  • enzymic antioxidant
  • metabolic enzyme
  • antioxidants
  • redox potential
  • amyloid beta neurotoxicity
  • cell death


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