• astrocytes;
  • glutamate-cysteine ligase;
  • γ-glutamyltranspeptidase;
  • glutathione;
  • neurones;
  • nitric oxide


Primary culture rat astrocytes exposed to the long acting nitric oxide donor (Z)-1-[2-aminoethyl)-N-(2-ammonioethyl)amino]diazen-1-ium-1,2-diolate (DETA-NO) for 24 h approximately double their concentration of glutathione (GSH) and show no sign of cell death. In contrast, GSH was depleted by 48%, and significant loss of mitochondrial respiratory chain complex activity and cell death were observed in primary culture rat neurones subjected to DETA-NO for 18 h. Northern blot analysis suggested that mRNA amounts of both subunits of glutamate-cysteine ligase (GCL), the rate-limiting enzyme in GSH synthesis, were elevated in astrocytes following nitric oxide (NO) exposure. This correlated with an increase in astrocytic GCL activity. Neurones on the other hand did not exhibit increased GCL activity when exposed to NO. In addition, the rate of GSH efflux was doubled and γ-glutamyltranspeptidase (γ-GT) activity was increased by 42% in astrocytes treated with NO for 24 h. These results suggest that astrocytes, but not neurones, up-regulate GSH synthesis as a defence mechanism against excess NO. It is possible that the increased rate of GSH release and activity of γ-GT in astrocytes may have important implications for neuroprotection in vivo by optimizing the supply of GSH precursors to neurones in close proximity.