Glutathione (gamma-glu-cys-gly; GSH) is usually present at high concentrations in most living cells, being the major reservoir of non-protein reduced sulfur. Because of its unique redox and nucleophilic properties, GSH serves in bio-reductive reactions as an important line of defense against reactive oxygen species, xenobiotics and heavy metals. GSH is synthesized from its constituent amino acids by two ATP-dependent reactions catalyzed by gamma-glutamylcysteine synthetase and glutathione synthetase. In yeast, these enzymes are found in the cytosol, whereas in plants they are located in the cytosol and chloroplast. In protists, their location is not well established. In turn, the sulfur assimilation pathway, which leads to cysteine biosynthesis, involves high and low affinity sulfate transporters, and the enzymes ATP sulfurylase, APS kinase, PAPS reductase or APS reductase, sulfite reductase, serine acetyl transferase, O-acetylserine/O-acetylhomoserine sulfhydrylase and, in some organisms, also cystathionine beta-synthase and cystathionine gamma-lyase. The biochemical and genetic regulation of these pathways is affected by oxidative stress, sulfur deficiency and heavy metal exposure. Cells cope with heavy metal stress using different mechanisms, such as complexation and compartmentation. One of these mechanisms in some yeast, plants and protists is the enhanced synthesis of the heavy metal-chelating molecules GSH and phytochelatins, which are formed from GSH by phytochelatin synthase (PCS) in a heavy metal-dependent reaction; Cd(2+) is the most potent activator of PCS. In this work, we review the biochemical and genetic mechanisms involved in the regulation of sulfate assimilation-reduction and GSH metabolism when yeast, plants and protists are challenged by Cd(2+).
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