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J Inherit Metab Dis. 2005;28(1):81-8.

Glutathione deficiency in patients with mitochondrial disease: implications for pathogenesis and treatment.

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Neurometabolic Unit, National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, Queen Square, WC1N 3BG, London, UK.


Glutathione (GSH) is a key intracellular antioxidant. With regard to mitochondrial function, loss of GSH is associated with impairment of the electron transport chain (ETC). Since GSH biosynthesis is an energy-dependent process, we postulated that in patients with ETC defects GSH status becomes compromised, leading to further loss of ETC activity. We performed electrochemical HPLC analysis to determine the GSH concentration of 24 skeletal muscle biopsies from patients with defined ETC defects compared to 15 age-matched disease controls. Comparison of these groups revealed a significant (p < 0.001) decrease in GSH concentration in the ETC-deficient group: 7.7 +/- 0.9 vs 12.3 +/- 0.6 nmol/mg protein in the control group. Further analysis of the data revealed that patients with multiple defects of the ETC had the most marked GSH deficiency: 4.1 +/- 0.9 nmol/mg protein (n = 4, p < 0.05) when compared to the control group. These findings suggest that a deficiency in skeletal muscle GSH concentration is associated with an ETC defect, possibly as a consequence of diminished ATP availability or increased oxidative stress. The decreased ability to combat oxidative stress could therefore cause further loss of ETC activity and hence be a contributing factor in the progressive nature of this group of disorders. Furthermore, restoration of cellular GSH status could prove to be of therapeutic benefit in patients with a GSH deficiency associated with their ETC defects.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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