Glutathione (-glutamyl-cysteinyl-glycine; GSH) is the most abundant low-molecular-weight thiol, and GSH/ glutathione disulfide is the major redox couple in animal cells. The synthesis of GSH from glutamate, cysteine, and glycine is catalyzed sequentially by two cytosolic enzymes, -glutamylcysteine synthetase and GSH synthetase. Compelling evidence shows that GSH synthesis is regulated primarily by -glutamylcysteine synthetase activity, cysteine availability, and GSH feedback inhibition. Animal and human studies demonstrate that adequate protein nutrition is crucial for the maintenance of GSH homeostasis. In addition, enteral or parenteral cystine, methionine, N-acetylcysteine, and L-2-oxothiazolidine-4-carboxylate are effective precursors of cysteine for tissue GSH synthesis.
Glutathione plays important roles in antioxidant defense, nutrient metabolism, and regulation of cellular events (including gene expression, DNA and protein synthesis, cell proliferation and apoptosis, signal transduction, cytokine production and immune response, and protein glutathionylation). Glutathione deficiency contributes to oxidative stress, which plays a key role in aging and the pathogenesis of many diseases (including kwashiorkor, seizure, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, liver disease, cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, HIV, AIDS, cancer, heart attack, stroke, and diabetes). New knowledge of the nutritional regulation of GSH metabolism is critical for the development of effective strategies to improve health and to treat these diseases.