Distribution of thiols in microorganisms: Mycothiol is a major thiol in most actinomycetes

Gerald L. Newton, Karen Arnold, Mitchel S. Price, Christopher Sherrill, Stephen B. Delcardayre, Yair Aharonowitz, Gerald Cohen, Julian Davies, Robert C. Fahey*, Charles Davis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Mycothiol [2-(N-acetylcysteinyl)amido-2-deoxy-α-D-glucopyranosyl-(1- →1)-myo-inositol] (MSH) has recently been identified as a major thiol in a number of actinomycetes (S. Sakuda, Z.-Y. Zhou, and Y. Yamada, Biosci. Biotech. Biochem. 58:1347-1348, 1994; H. S. C. Spies and D. J. Steenkamp, Eur. J. Biochem. 224:203213, 1994; and G. L. Newton, C. A. Bewley, T. J. Dwyer, R. Horn, Y. Aharonowitz, G. Cohen, J. Davies, D. J. Faulkner, and R. C. Fahey, Eur. J. Biochem. 230:821-825, 1995). Since this novel thiol is more resistant than glutathione to heavy-metal ion-catalyzed oxidation, it seems likely to be the antioxidant thiol used by aerobic gram-positive bacteria that do not produce glutathione (GSH). In the present study we sought to define the spectrum of organisms that produce MSH. GSH was absent in all actinomycetes and some of the other gram-positive bacteria studied. Surprisingly, the streptococci and enterococci contained GSH, and some strains appeared to synthesize it rather than import it from the growth medium. MSH was found at significant levels in most actinomycetes examined. Among the actinobacteria four Micrococcus species produced MSH, but MSH was not found in representatives of the Arthrobacter, Agromyces, or Actinomyces genera. Of the nocardioforms examined, Nocardia, Rhodococcus, and Mycobacteria spp. all produced MSH. In addition to the established production of MSH by streptomycetes, we found that Micromonospora, Actinomadura, and Nocardiopsis spp. also synthesized MSH. Mycothiol production was not detected in Propionibacterium aches or in representative species of the Listeria, Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, Enterococcus, Bacillus, and Clostridium genera. Examination of representatives of the cyanobacteria, purple bacteria, and spirochetes also gave negative results, as did tests of rat liver, bonito, Candida albicans, Neurospora crassa, and spinach leaves. The results, which indicate that MSH production is restricted to the actinomycetes, could have significant implications for the detection and treatment of infections with actinomycetes, especially those caused by mycobacteria.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1990-1995
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Bacteriology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Apr 1996


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