Journal of molecular evolution

The evolution of glutathione metabolism in phototrophic microorganisms.

PMID 11542078


Of the many roles ascribed to glutathione (GSH) the one most clearly established is its role in the protection of higher eucaryotes against oxygen toxicity through destruction of thiol-reactive oxygen byproducts. If this is the primary function of GSH then GSH metabolism should have evolved during or after the evolution of oxygenic photosynthesis. That many bacteria do not produce GSH is consistent with this view. In the present study we have examined the low-molecular-weight thiol composition of a variety of phototrophic microorganisms to ascertain how evolution of GSH production is related to evolution of oxygenic photosynthesis. Cells were extracted in the presence of monobromobimane (mBBr) to convert thiols to fluorescent derivatives, which were analyzed by high-pressure liquid chromatography. Significant levels of GSH were not found in the green bacteria (Chlorobium thiosulfatophilum and Chloroflexus aurantiacus). Substantial levels of GSH were present in the purple bacteria (Chromatium vinosum, Rhodospirillum rubrum, Rhodobacter sphaeroides, and Rhodocyclus gelatinosa), the cyanobacteria [Anacystis nidulans, Microcoleus chthonoplastes S.G., Nostoc muscorum, Oscillatoria amphigranulata, Oscillatoria limnetica, Oscillatoria sp. (Stinky Spring, Utah), Oscillatoria terebriformis, Plectonema boryanum, and Synechococcus lividus], and eucaryotic algae (Chlorella pyrenoidsa, Chlorella vulgaris, Euglena gracilis, Scenedesmus obliquus, and Chlamydomonas reinhardtii). Other thiols measured included cysteine, gamma-glutamylcysteine, thiosulfate, coenzyme A, and sulfide; several unidentified thiols were also detected. Many of the organisms examined also exhibited a marked ability to reduce mBBr to syn-(methyl,methyl)bimane, an ability that was quenched by treatment with 2-pyridyl disulfide or 5,5'-bisdithio-(2-nitrobenzoic acid) prior to reaction with mBBr. These observations indicate the presence of a reducing system capable of electron transfer to mBBr and reduction of reactive disulfides. The distribution of GSH in phototrophic eubacteria indicates that GSH synthesis evolved at or around the time that oxygenic photosynthesis evolved.