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Biochem Pharmacol. 1991 Jun 21;42(1):13-6.

The metabolism of N-acetylcysteine by human endothelial cells.

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Department of Toxicology, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.


When human umbilical endothelial cells were depleted of their glutathione by incubation in a sulfur amino acid-free medium, subsequent incubation of the cells with this deficient medium supplemented with N-acetylcysteine resulted in a dose-dependent stimulation of the synthesis of cellular glutathione. Similarly, the inclusion of N-acetylcysteine in the medium during the period of depletion of glutathione caused a dose-dependent retardation of the depletion kinetics. In contrast, the incubation of control cells in normal medium supplemented with N-acetylcysteine did not increase cellular glutathione levels above controls. These observations indicate the presence of an N-deacetylase in/on the cells with specificity for N-acetylcysteine. Due to the large surface area of the endothelium in the vasculature it seems likely that endothelial cell N-deacetylation plays a role in the metabolic disposition of N-acetylcysteine, particularly when administered intravenously. N-Acetylcysteine is, however, a relatively poor precursor to glutathione biosynthesis in comparison to cystine. Thus, any cytoprotective, antioxidant effect exerted by N-acetylcysteine on the human endothelium is likely to be due to direct scavenging of reactive intermediates rather than by stimulated glutathione synthesis in the endothelial cells themselves.

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