Normal alveolar epithelial lining fluid contains high levels of glutathione.
The epithelial cells on the alveolar surface of the human lower respiratory tract are vulnerable to toxic oxidants derived from inhaled pollutants or inflammatory cells. Although these lung cells have intracellular antioxidants, these defenses may be insufficient to protect the epithelial surface against oxidants present at the alveolar surface. This study demonstrates that the epithelial lining fluid (ELF) of the lower respiratory tract contains large amounts of the sulfhydryl-containing antioxidant glutathione (GSH). The total glutathione (the reduced form GSH and the disulfide GSSG) concentration of normal ELF was 140-fold higher than that in plasma of the same individuals, and 96% of the glutathione in ELF was in the reduced form. Compared with nonsmokers, cigarette smokers had 80% higher levels of ELF total glutathione, 98% of which was in the reduced form. Studies of cultured lung epithelial cells and fibroblasts demonstrated that these concentrations of reduced glutathione were sufficient to protect these cells against the burden of H2O2 in the range released by alveolar macrophages removed from the lower respiratory tract of nonsmokers and smokers, respectively, suggesting that the glutathione present in the alveolar ELF of normal individuals likely contributes to the protective screen against oxidants in the extracellular milieu of the lower respiratory tract.