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J Clin Invest. 2012 Jun;122(6):2289-300. doi: 10.1172/JCI57817. Epub 2012 May 1.

Glutathione deficiency in type 2 diabetes impairs cytokine responses and control of intracellular bacteria.

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Department of Biochemistry, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore, Singapore.


Individuals with type 2 diabetes are at increased risk of acquiring melioidosis, a disease caused by Burkholderia pseudomallei infection. Although up to half of melioidosis patients have underlying diabetes, the mechanisms involved in this increased susceptibility are unknown. We found that B. pseudomallei-infected PBMCs from diabetic patients were impaired in IL-12p70 production, which resulted in decreased IFN-γ induction and poor bacterial killing. The defect was specific to the IL-12-IFN-γ axis. Defective IL-12 production was also observed during Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection, in which diabetes is likewise known to be a strong risk factor. In contrast, IL-12 production in diabetic cells was not affected upon Salmonella enterica infection or in response to TLR2, -3, -4, and -5 ligands. Poor IL-12 production correlated with a deficiency in intracellular reduced glutathione (GSH) concentrations in diabetic patients. Addition of GSH or N-acetylcysteine to PBMCs selectively restored IL-12 and IFN-γ production and improved bacterial killing. Furthermore, the depletion of GSH in mice led to increased susceptibility to melioidosis, reduced production of IL-12p70, and poorer disease outcome. Our data thus establish a link between GSH deficiency in diabetes and increased susceptibility to melioidosis that may open up new therapeutic avenues to protect diabetic patients against some intracellular bacterial pathogens.

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