The antioxidant glutathione (GSH) is essential for the cellular detoxification of reactive oxygen species in brain cells. A compromised GSH system in the brain has been connected with the oxidative stress occuring in neurological diseases. Recent data demonstrate that besides intracellular functions GSH has also important extracellular functions in brain. In this respect astrocytes appear to play a key role in the GSH metabolism of the brain, since astroglial GSH export is essential for providing GSH precursors to neurons. Of the different brain cell types studied in vitro only astrocytes release substantial amounts of GSH. In addition, during oxidative stress astrocytes efficiently export glutathione disulfide (GSSG). The multidrug resistance protein 1 participates in both the export of GSH and GSSG from astrocytes. This review focuses on recent results on the export of GSH and GSSG from brain cells as well as on the functions of extracellular GSH in the brain. In addition, implications of disturbed GSH pathways in brain for neurodegenerative diseases will be discussed.
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