Glutathione (GSH) is an endogenous tripeptide composed of the amino acids L-glutamate, L-cysteine, and glycine. It is found in virtually all aerobic cells and plays critical roles in maintenance of cellular redox homeostasis and drug metabolism. An important component of its regulation is transport across biological membranes. Because GSH is a charged, hydrophilic molecule, transport occurs via catalysis by specific carrier proteins rather than by simple diffusion. Although it has been clearly understood that efflux of GSH across membranes such as the canalicular and sinusoidal plasma membranes in hepatocytes and the brush-border plasma membrane in renal proximal tubules is a key step in GSH turnover and interorgan metabolism, the existence and physiological functions of uptake of GSH across various epithelial plasma membranes has been subject to some debate. Besides transport across plasma membranes, GSH transport across intracellular membranes, most notably the mitochondrial inner membrane, has received some attention in recent years because of the importance of mitochondrial redox status and the mitochondrial GSH pool in cellular physiology and pathology. This commentary will focus on renal transport processes for GSH and will discuss some of the controversies that have existed and still seem to exist in the literature, specifically regarding uptake of intact GSH by basolateral membranes of renal proximal tubular cells and uptake of intact GSH by the mitochondrial inner membrane.
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