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J Biol Chem. 2013 Jun 21;288(25):18421-8. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M113.468090. Epub 2013 Apr 29.

Selective metabolism of hypothiocyanous acid by mammalian thioredoxin reductase promotes lung innate immunity and antioxidant defense.

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Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Colorado Denver, Aurora, Colorado 80045, USA.


The endogenously produced oxidant hypothiocyanous acid (HOSCN) inhibits and kills pathogens but paradoxically is well tolerated by mammalian host tissue. Mammalian high molecular weight thioredoxin reductase (H-TrxR) is evolutionarily divergent from bacterial low molecular weight thioredoxin reductase (L-TrxR). Notably, mammalian H-TrxR contains a selenocysteine (Sec) and has wider substrate reactivity than L-TrxR. Recombinant rat cytosolic H-TrxR1, mouse mitochondrial H-TrxR2, and a purified mixture of both from rat selectively turned over HOSCN (kcat = 357 ± 16 min(-1); Km = 31.9 ± 10.3 μM) but were inactive against the related oxidant hypochlorous acid. Replacing Sec with Cys or deleting the final eight C-terminal peptides decreased affinity and turnover of HOSCN by H-TrxR. Similarly, glutathione reductase (an H-TrxR homologue lacking Sec) was less effective at HOSCN turnover. In contrast to H-TrxR and glutathione reductase, recombinant Escherichia coli L-TrxR was potently inhibited by HOSCN (IC50 = 2.75 μM). Similarly, human bronchial epithelial cell (16HBE) lysates metabolized HOSCN, but E. coli and Pseudomonas aeruginosa lysates had little or no activity. HOSCN selectively produced toxicity in bacteria, whereas hypochlorous acid was nonselectively toxic to both bacteria and 16HBE. Treatment with the H-TrxR inhibitor auranofin inhibited HOSCN metabolism in 16HBE lysates and significantly increased HOSCN-mediated cytotoxicity. These findings demonstrate both the metabolism of HOSCN by mammalian H-TrxR resulting in resistance to HOSCN in mammalian cells and the potent inhibition of bacterial L-TrxR resulting in cytotoxicity in bacteria. These data support a novel selective mechanism of host defense in mammals wherein HOSCN formation simultaneously inhibits pathogens while sparing host tissue.


Cystic fibrosis; Infectious diseases; Inflammation; Innate immunity; Thioredoxin reductase; hypothiocyanite; thiocyanate

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