Glutathionylation of α-ketoglutarate dehydrogenase: The chemical nature and relative susceptibility of the cofactor lipoic acid to modification

Aaron L. McLain, Peter J. Cormier, Michael Kinter, Luke I. Szweda

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


α-Ketoglutarate dehydrogenase (KGDH) is reversibly inhibited when rat heart mitochondria are exposed to hydrogen peroxide (H2O 2). H2O2-induced inhibition occurs through the formation of a mixed disulfide between a protein sulfhydryl and glutathione. Upon consumption of H2O2, glutaredoxin can rapidly remove glutathione, resulting in regeneration of enzyme activity. KGDH is a key regulatory site within the Krebs cycle. Glutathionylation of the enzyme may therefore represent an important means to control mitochondrial function in response to oxidative stress. We have previously provided indirect evidence that glutathionylation occurs on lipoic acid, a cofactor covalently bound to the E2 subunit of KGDH. However, lipoic acid contains two vicinal sulfhydryls and rapid disulfide exchange might be predicted to preclude stable glutathionylation. The current study sought conclusive identification of the site and chemistry of KGDH glutathionylation and factors that control the degree and rate of enzyme inhibition. We present evidence that, upon reaction of free lipoic acid with oxidized glutathione in solution, disulfide exchange occurs rapidly, producing oxidized lipoic acid and reduced glutathione. This prevents the stable formation of a glutathione-lipoic acid adduct. Nevertheless, 1:1 lipoic acid-glutathione adducts are formed on KGDH because the second sulfhydryl on lipoic acid is unable to participate in disulfide exchange in the enzyme's native conformation. The maximum degree of KGDH inhibition that can be achieved by treatment of mitochondria with H2O2 is 50%. Results indicate that this is not due to glutathionylation of a subpopulation of the enzyme but, rather, the unique susceptibility of lipoic acid on a subset of E2 subunits within each enzyme complex. Calcium enhances the rate of glutathionylation by increasing the half-life of reduced lipoic acid during enzyme catalysis. This does not, however, alter the maximal level of inhibition, providing further evidence that specific lipoic acid residues within the E2 complex are susceptible to glutathionylation. These findings offer chemical information necessary for the identification of mechanisms and physiological implications of KGDH glutathionylation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)161-169
Number of pages9
JournalFree Radical Biology and Medicine
StatePublished - 2013


  • Free radicals
  • Glutathionylation
  • Lipoic acid
  • Mitochondria
  • Redox regulation
  • α-Ketoglutarate dehydrogenase

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Physiology (medical)


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