Gene knockdown of γ-glutamylcysteine synthetase by RNAi in the parasitic protozoa Trypanosoma brucei demonstrates that it is an essential enzyme

Tu T. Huynh, Van T. Huynh, Margaret A. Harmon, Margaret A. Phillips

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62 Scopus citations


The parasitic protozoa Trypanosoma brucei utilizes a novel cofactor (trypanothione, T(SH)2), which is a conjugate of GSH and spermidine, to maintain cellular redox balance. γ-Glutamylcysteine synthetase (γ-GCS) catalyzes the first step in the biosynthesis of GSH. To evaluate the importance of thiol metabolism to the parasite, RNAi methods were used to knock down gene expression of γ-GCS in procyclic T. brucei cells. Induction of γ-GCS RNAi with tetracycline led to cell death within 4-6 days post-induction. Cell death was preceded by the depletion of the γ-GCS protein and RNA and by the loss of the cellular pools of GSH and T(SH)2. The addition of GSH (80 μM) to cell cultures rescued the RNAi cell death phenotype and restored the intracellular thiol pools to wild-type levels. Treatment of cells with buthionine sulfoximine (BSO), an enzyme-activated inhibitor of γ-GCS, also resulted in cell death. However, the toxicity of the inhibitor was not reversed by GSH, suggesting that BSO has more than one cellular target. BSO depletes intracellular thiols to a similar extent as γ-GCS RNAi; however, addition of GSH did not restore the pools of GSH and T(SH)2. These data suggest that BSO also acts to inhibit the transport of GSH or its peptide metabolites into the cell. The ability of BSO to inhibit both synthesis and transport of GSH likely makes it a more effective cytotoxic agent than an inhibitor with a single mode of action. Finally the potential for the T(SH)2 biosynthetic enzymes to be regulated in response to reduced thiol levels was studied. The expression levels of ornithine decarboxylase and of S-adenosylmethionine decarboxylase, two essential enzymes in spermidine biosynthesis, remained constant in induced γ-GCS RNAi cell lines.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)39794-39800
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number41
StatePublished - Oct 10 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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