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J Neurochem. 1993 Nov;61(5):1672-6.

Maintenance of neuronal glutathione by glial cells.

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Department of Biochemistry, University of Tsukuba Medical School, Ibaraki, Japan.


Glutathione levels in neurons and glial cells were investigated in a neuronal-glial coculture and in separate cultures. Brain cell suspensions obtained from cerebral hemispheres of fetal rats were cultured, and after 5 days the glutathione content of this cell population, consisting mainly of neurons and astroglial cells, was 23.0 nmol/mg of cell protein, with a significantly high content in glial cells (28.0 nmol/mg of protein) in comparison with neurons (18.8 nmol/mg of protein). When the neurons and glial cells were separated and recultured in fresh medium, neuronal glutathione rapidly decreased, whereas glial glutathione remained unchanged. Cysteine is a rate-limiting precursor for glutathione synthesis, and its level was also decreased in neurons, but not in glial cells. Cysteine was taken up rapidly by both neurons and glial cells, but cystine was taken up only by glial cells. This accounts for the rapid decrease of glutathione in the cultured neurons, because the culture medium contains cystine, but not cysteine. It was also found that the cultured glial cells released cysteine into the medium. These results suggest that neurons maintain their glutathione level by taking up cysteine provided by glial cells.

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