Friedreich's ataxia is a neurodegenerative disease caused by reduced expression of the mitochondrial protein frataxin. The main phenotypic features of frataxin-deficient human and yeast cells include iron accumulation in mitochondria, iron-sulphur cluster defects and high sensitivity to oxidative stress. Glutathione is a major protective agent against oxidative damage and glutathione-related systems participate in maintaining the cellular thiol / disulfide status and the reduced environment of the cell. Here, we present the first detailed biochemical study of the glutathione-dependent redox status of wild-type and frataxin-deficient cells in a yeast model of the disease. There was five times less total glutathione (GSH+GSSG) in frataxin-deficient cells, imbalanced GSH/GSSG pools and higher glutathione peroxidase activity. The pentose phosphate pathway was stimulated in frataxin-deficient cells, glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase activity was three times higher than in wild-type cells, and this was coupled to a defect in the NADPH/NADP(+) pool. Moreover, analysis of gene expression confirms the adaptative response of mutant cells to stress conditions and we bring evidence for a strong relation between the glutathione-dependent redox status of the cells and iron homeostasis. Dynamic studies show that intracellular glutathione levels reflect an adaptation of cells to iron stress conditions, and allow to distinguish constitutive stress observed in frataxin-deficient cells from the acute response of wild-type cells. In conclusion, our findings provide evidence for an impairment of glutathione homeostasis in a yeast model of Friedreich's ataxia and identify glutathione as a valuable indicator of the redox status of frataxin-deficient cells.
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