Glutathione depletion, pentose phosphate pathway activation, and hemolysis in erythrocytes protecting cancer cells from vitamin C-induced oxidative stress

Zhuzhen Z. Zhang, Eunice E. Lee, Jessica Sudderth, Yangbo Yue, Ayesha Zia, Donald Glass, Ralph J. Deberardinis, Richard C. Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

15 Scopus citations


The discovery that oxidized vitamin C, dehydroascorbate (DHA), can induce oxidative stress and cell death in cancer cells has rekindled interest in the use of high dose vitamin C (VC) as a cancer therapy. However, high dose VC has shown limited efficacy in clinical trials, possibly due to the decreased bioavailability of oral VC. Because human erythrocytes express high levels of Glut1, take up DHA, and reduce it to VC, we tested how erythrocytes might impact high dose VC therapies. Cancer cells are protected from VC-mediated cell death when co-cultured with physiologically relevant numbers of erythrocytes. Pharmacological doses of VC induce oxidative stress, GSH depletion, and increased glucose flux through the oxidative pentose phosphate pathway (PPP) in erythrocytes. Incubation of erythrocytes with VC induced hemolysis, which was exacerbated in erythrocytes from glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) patients and rescued by antioxidants. Thus, erythrocytes protect cancer cells from VC-induced oxidative stress and undergo hemolysis in vitro, despite activation of the PPP. These results have implications on the use of high dose VC in ongoing clinical trials and highlight the importance of the PPP in the response to oxidative stress.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)22861-22867
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number44
StatePublished - Oct 28 2016


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology

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