Glutathione, glutathione disulfide, and S-glutathionylated proteins in cell cultures

Daniela Giustarini, Federico Galvagni, Anna Tesei, Alberto Farolfi, Michele Zanoni, Sara Pignatta, Aldo Milzani, Ilaria M. Marone, Isabella Dalle-Donne, Romina Nassini, Ranieri Rossi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The analysis of the global thiol-disulfide redox status in tissues and cells is a challenging task since thiols and disulfides can undergo artificial oxido-reductions during sample manipulation. Because of this, the measured values, in particular for disulfides, can have a significant bias. Whereas this methodological problem has already been addressed in samples of red blood cells and solid tissues, a reliable method to measure thiols and disulfides in cell cultures has not been previously reported. Here, we demonstrate that the major artifact occurring during thiol and disulfide analysis in cultured cells is represented by glutathione disulfide (GSSG) and S-glutathionylated proteins (PSSG) overestimation, due to artificial oxidation of glutathione (GSH) during sample manipulation, and that this methodological problem can be solved by the addition of N-ethylmaleimide (NEM) immediately after culture medium removal. Basal levels of GSSG and PSSG in different lines of cultured cells were 3-5 and 10-20 folds higher, respectively, when the cells were processed without NEM. NEM pre-treatment also prevented the artificial reduction of disulfides that occurs during the pre-analytical phase when cells are exposed to an oxidant stimulus. In fact, in the absence of NEM, after medium removal, GSH, GSSG and PSSG levels restored their initial values within 15-30 min, due to the activity of reductases and the lack of the oxidant. The newly developed protocol was used to measure the thiol-disulfide redox status in 16 different line cells routinely used for biomedical research both under basal conditions and after treatment with disulfiram, a thiol-specific oxidant (0-200 μM concentration range). Our data indicate that, in most cell lines, treatment with disulfiram affected the levels of GSH and GSSG only at the highest concentration. On the other hand, PSSG levels increased significantly also at the lower concentrations of the drug, and the rise was remarkable (from 100 to 1000 folds at 200 μM concentration) and dose-dependent for almost all the cell lines. These data support the suitability of the analysis of PSSG in cultured cells as a biomarker of oxidative stress.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)972-981
Number of pages10
JournalFree Radical Biology and Medicine
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1 2015


  • Cell cultures
  • Glutathione
  • Glutathione disulfide
  • S-glutathionylated proteins

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Physiology (medical)

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