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Scand J Clin Lab Invest. 2004;64(7):649-58.

Thiol metabolism in preterm infants during the first week of life.

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Hospital for Children and Adolescents, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Biomedicum, 4th floor, P.O. Box 700, FL-00029 Helsinki, Finland.



Oxidative stress is implicated in the pathogenesis of several complications of prematurity. The glutathione cycle is one of the most important intracellular antioxidant systems. The synthesis of glutathione may not be adequate in preterm neonates because of the low levels of cysteine available. The aim of this study was to evaluate cysteine and glutathione metabolism during the first week of life in preterm infants.


Plasma and erythrocyte thiol concentrations were measured in 78 preterm infants with a birthweight of 500-1500 g, and erythrocyte glutamate-cysteine ligase (GCL), glutathione peroxidase (GPx), glutathione reductase (GR), glutathione S-transferases (GST) and glucose 6-phosphatedehydrogenase (G6PDH) in 26 infants with a birthweight of 1000-1500 g.


The mean (SD) plasma glutathione concentration increased from day 0 to day 1 (14.9 (7.1) vs. 27.7 (11.9) micromol/L, p < 0.001), and then decreased. The plasma cysteine concentration changed in the opposite direction (172 (59) vs. 129 (42) micromol/L, p < 0.01). In infants with respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) the mean plasma glutathione concentration, but not cysteine, was lower on day 0 compared with infants without RDS (11.7 (5.2) vs. 21.4 (5.6) micromol/L, p < 0.01). Erythrocyte glutathione concentration decreased during the first week of life, whereas erythrocyte cysteine concentration increased significantly from day 3 to day 7 (p < 0.01). Erythrocyte cysteine and glutathione concentrations had a positive correlation. The GCL and GR activities did not change, but GST and G6PDH activities decreased during the first week (p < 0.01). GPx activity decreased until day 3 (p < 0.01) and was higher on day 0 and day 1 in infants with RDS.


Very low birthweight infants have an initial increase in plasma glutathione and initial decrease in plasma cysteine level during the first week of life, and also a positive correlation between erythrocyte cysteine and glutathione levels.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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