Glutathione metabolism in brain

Metabolic interaction between astrocytes and neurons in the defense against reactive oxygen species


R. Dringen, Physiologisch-chemisches Institut der Universität, Hoppe-Seyler-Strasse 4, D-72076 Tübingen, Germany. Fax: +49 7071 295360, Tel.: +49 7071 2973334, E-mail:


The cells of the adult human brain consume ≈ 20% of the oxygen utilized by the body although the brain comprises only 2% of the body weight. Reactive oxygen species, which are produced continuously during oxidative metabolism, are generated at high rates within the brain. Therefore, the defense against the toxic effects of reactive oxygen species is an essential task within the brain. An important component of the cellular detoxification of reactive oxygen species is the antioxidant glutathione. The main focus of this short review is recent results on glutathione metabolism of brain astrocytes and neurons in culture. These two types of cell prefer different extracellular precursors for glutathione. Glutathione is involved in the disposal of exogenous peroxides by astrocytes and neurons. In coculture astrocytes protect neurons against the toxicity of reactive oxygen species. One mechanism of this interaction is the supply by astrocytes of glutathione precursors to neurons.