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FASEB J. 2003 Jan;17(1):124-6. Epub 2002 Nov 15.

Visualization of the compartmentalization of glutathione and protein-glutathione mixed disulfides in cultured cells.

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Division of Biochemical Toxicology, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm Sweden.


Fluorescence microscopy of A549 cells stained with a glutathione (L-gamma-glutamyl-L-cysteinylglycine, GSH)-specific polyclonal antibody displayed uniform staining of the peri-nuclear cytosol, with the nuclear region apparently lacking GSH staining. This discontinuous staining was confirmed in other cell types and also corroborated in A549 cells stained with the thiol-reactive dye mercury orange. The selectivity of antibody binding was confirmed by buthionine sulfoximine (BSO)-dependent inhibition of GSH synthesis. However, confocal visualization of antibody-stained A549 cells in the z-plane revealed the majority of the peri-nuclear staining intensity in the upper half of the cell to be associated with mitochondria, as confirmed by double staining for cytochrome oxidase. Integration of the confocal signals from the nuclear and cytosolic regions halfway down the z-plane showed that the GSH concentrations of these compartments are close to equilibrium. Confirmation of the relatively high levels of mitochondrial glutathione was provided in cells treated with BSO and visualized in z-section, revealing the mitochondrial GSH content of these cells to be well preserved in apposition to near-complete depletion of cytosolic/nuclear GSH. Localized gradients within the cytosolic compartment were also visible, particularly in the z-plane. The antibody also provided initial visualization of the compartmentalization of protein-GSH mixed disulfides formed in A549 cells exposed to diamide. Discontinuous staining was again evident, with heavy staining in membrane blebs and in the nuclear region. Using FACS analysis of anti-GSH antibody-stained Jurkat T lymphocytes, we also demonstrated population variations in the cellular compliment of GSH and protein-GSH mixed disulfides, formed in response to diamide. In addition, we showed cell-cycle variation in GSH content of the cells, with the highest levels of GSH associated with the G2/M mitotic phase of the cell cycle, using double staining with propidium iodide. Similar FACS analyses performed in isolated mitochondria presented a considerable variation in GSH content within mitochondria of uniform granularity from the same preparation.

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