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Free Radic Res. 2000 Apr;32(4):281-301.

Regulation of gamma-glutamylcysteine synthetase subunit gene expression: insights into transcriptional control of antioxidant defenses.

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Department of Pharmacology, University of Wisconsin Medical School, Madison 53792, USA.


Gamma-glutamylcysteine synthetase (GCS; also referred to as glutamate-cysteine ligase, GLCL) catalyzes the rate-limiting reaction in glutathione (GSH) biosynthesis. The GCS holoenzyme is composed of a catalytic and regulatory subunit, each encoded by a unique gene. In addition to some conditions which specifically upregulate the catalytic subunit gene, expression of both genes is increased in response to many Phase II enzyme inducers including oxidants, heavy metals, phenolic antioxidants and GSH-conjugating agents. Electrophile Response Elements (EpREs), located in 5'-flanking sequences of both the GCSh and GCSl subunit genes, are hypothesized to at least partially mediate gene induction following xenobiotic exposure. Recent experiments indicate that the bZip transcription factor Nrf2 participates in EpRE-mediated GCS subunit gene activation in combination with other bZip proteins. An AP-1-like binding sequence and an NF-kappaB site have also been implicated in regulation of the catalytic subunit gene following exposure to certain pro-oxidants. Potential signaling mechanisms mediating GCS gene induction by the diverse families of Phase II enzyme inducers include thiol modification of critical regulatory sensor protein(s) and the generation of the reactive oxygen species. This review summarizes recent progress in defining the molecular mechanisms operative in transcriptional control of the genes encoding the two GCS subunits, identifying areas of agreement and controversy. The mechanisms involved in GCS regulation might also be relevant to the transcriptional control of other components of the antioxidant defense battery.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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