Pseudomonas aeruginosa pyocyanin directly oxidizes glutathione and decreases its levels in airway epithelial cells

Yunxia Q. O'Malley, Krzysztof J. Reszka, Douglas R. Spitz, Gerene M. Denning, Bradley E. Britigan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

142 Scopus citations


Production of pyocyanin enhances Pseudomonas aeruginosa virulence. Many of pyocyanin's in vitro and in vivo cytotoxic effects on human cells appear to result from its ability to redox cycle. Pyocyanin directly accepts electrons from NADH or NADPH with subsequent electron transfer to oxygen, generating reactive oxygen species. Reduced glutathione (GSH) is an important cellular antioxidant, and it contributes to the regulation of redox-sensitive signaling systems. Using the human bronchial epithelial (HBE) and the A549 human type II alveolar epithelial cell lines, we tested the hypothesis that pyocyanin can deplete airway epithelial cells of GSH. Incubation of both cell types with pyocyanin led to a concentration-dependent loss of cellular GSH (up to 50%) and an increase in oxidized GSH (GSSG) in the HBE, but not A549 cells, at 24 h. An increase in total GSH, mostly as GSSG, was detected in the culture media, suggesting export of GSH or GSSG from the pyocyanin-exposed cells. Loss of GSH could be due to pyocyanin-induced H2O2 formation. However, overexpression of catalase only partially prevented the pyocyanin-mediated decline in cellular GSH. Cell-free electron paramagnetic resonance studies revealed that pyocyanin directly oxidizes GSH, forming pyocyanin free radical and O2-·. Pyocyanin oxidized other thiol-containing compounds, cysteine and N-acetyl-cysteine, but not methionine. Thus GSH may enhance pyocyanin-induced cytotoxicity by functioning as an alternative source of reducing equivalents for pyocyanin redox cycling. Pyocyanin-mediated alterations in cellular GSH may alter epithelial cell functions by modulating redox sensitive signaling events.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)L94-L103
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology
Issue number1 31-1
StatePublished - Jul 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Glutathione
  • Human bronchial epithelial cells
  • Lung
  • Type 11 alveolar epithelial cells

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine
  • Physiology (medical)
  • Cell Biology


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