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Hoffmann, R. A wiki for the life sciences where authorship matters. Nature Genetics (2008)

Covalent reactions in the toxicity of SO2 and sulfite.

Toxic effects of SO2 and sulfite such as bronchitis and bronchoconstriction have been well documented. SO2 has also been suggested to potentiate carcinogenic effects of PAH. However, the molecular basis of these toxic effects is unclear. We have examined the covalent reaction of SO2 and sulfite with cellular proteinacious and nonproteinaceous sulfhydryl compounds using rat liver, and lung and human lung derived A549 cells. Reactions of sulfite and protein in rat and human lung cells reveals at least three proteins with sulfite-reactive disulfide bonds. Besides fibronectin and serum albumin, which had been reported to contain sulfonated products following exposure to sulfite, we have found one other protein with sulfite-binding capabilities. Since the integrity of disulfide bonds is crucial to the tertiary structure and thus protein function, the disruption of protein structure by sulfitolysis may result in altered cellular activities leading to biochemical lesions. Using carefully controlled conditions, reproducible GSH contents can be found in cultured cells and used as an experimental basis for studying alterations in the GSH and GSSG content of cells. Sulfitolysis of GSSG results in the formation of GSSO3H in A549 cells, and possibly in the lung. GSSO3H can be reduced enzymatically by GSSG reductase. However, the Km of GSSO3H is high compared to that of GSSG, suggesting the existence of a transient concentration of GSSO3H once it is formed. Cysteine S-sulfonate is, however, not reduced by cytosolic extracts in the presence of NADPH and would have to be eliminated from the cell by other means. GSSO3H is a strong competitive inhibitor of GST in rat liver and lung and A549 cells, using 1-chloro-2,4-dinitrobenzene as a substrate. It also inhibits the formation of GSH conjugates of BP 4,5-oxide, anti and syn BPDE, but to a lesser extent. These results suggest that SO2 may affect the detoxification of xenobiotic compounds by inhibiting, via formation of GSSO3H, the enzymatic conjugation of GSH and reactive electrophiles. Since GSH conjugation represents the major pathway of elimination of BP epoxides in the lung, our results offer a possible explanation for the cocarcinogenicity of SO2 with PAHs. These data suggest that the sulfitolysis reaction of sulfite is the common reaction mechanism mediating the underlying biochemical reactions leading to both the toxic and cocarcinogenic properties of SO2. Quantitation of sulfitolysis products and their interaction with cellular processes should provide a coherent scheme relating SO2 and sulfite toxicity among animal species and humans.[1]


  1. Covalent reactions in the toxicity of SO2 and sulfite. Menzel, D.B., Keller, D.A., Leung, K.H. Adv. Exp. Med. Biol. (1986) [Pubmed]
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