Cellular thiol pools are responsible for sequestration of cytotoxic reactive aldehydes: Central role of free cysteine and cysteamine

Paul L. Wood*, M. Amin Khan, Joseph R. Moskal

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Cellular thiol pools have been shown to be important in the regulation of the redox status of cells, providing a large antioxidant pool consisting of free thiols, thiols bound in the disulfide form and thiols bound to proteins. However, experimental studies with the thiol cysteamine and its disulfide cystamine have demonstrated dramatic cytoprotection in experimental models where antioxidants provide only minor protection. These data suggest that an alternate action of thiols is important in their cytoprotective actions. A common feature of the in vitro and in vivo models, where these thiol agents demonstrate cytoprotection, is the generation of cytotoxic aldehydes. We therefore studied the actions of cystamine, cysteamine and several reference thiol agents as cytoprotectants against cell death induced by increased "aldehyde load". We found that all the thiol agents examined provided dramatic protection against aldehyde-induced cell death in SN56 cholinergic neurons, under conditions in which acrolein induced 100% cell death. With regard to mechanism of action, the reference thiols cysteine, N-acetylcysteine, 2-mercaptoethanesulfonic acid, mercapto-propionyglycine, and cysteamine can directly sequester aldehydes. In addition, these thiols were all found to augment intracellular cysteine levels via disulfide interchange reactions. Cysteamine and cystamine also augmented basal intracellular cysteamine levels. Our data, for the first time, demonstrate the importance of intracellular thiols in sequestering toxic reactive aldehyde products of lipid peroxidation and polyamine metabolism. In addition it appears that pharmacological manipulation of intracellular thiol pools might offer a new approach in the design of neuroprotective drug candidates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)158-163
Number of pages6
JournalBrain research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 16 2007


  • 3-Aminopropanal
  • Acrolein
  • Aldehyde sequestration
  • Cystamine
  • Cysteamine
  • Cysteine
  • Neuroprotection
  • Pantethine
  • SN56 cholinergic neuron
  • Thiol

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Molecular Biology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Developmental Biology


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