Mathematical modeling of the effects of glutathione on arsenic methylation

Lawley, Sean; Yun, Jina; Gamble, Mary; Hall, Megan N.; Reed, Michael; Nijhout, H.

Background: Arsenic is a major environmental toxin that is detoxified in the liver by biochemical mechanisms that are still under study. In the traditional metabolic pathway, arsenic undergoes two methylation reactions, each followed by a reduction, after which it is exported and released in the urine. Recent experiments show that glutathione plays an important role in arsenic detoxification and an alternative biochemical pathway has been proposed in which arsenic is first conjugated by glutathione after which the conjugates are methylated. In addition, in rats arsenic-glutathione conjugates can be exported into the plasma and removed by the liver in the bile. Methods: We have developed a mathematical model for arsenic biochemistry that includes three mechanisms by which glutathione affects arsenic methylation: glutathione increases the speed of the reduction steps; glutathione affects the activity of arsenic methyltranferase; glutathione sequesters inorganic arsenic and its methylated downstream products. The model is based as much as possible on the known biochemistry of arsenic methylation derived from cellular and experimental studies. Results: We show that the model predicts and helps explain recent experimental data on the effects of glutathione on arsenic methylation. We explain why the experimental data imply that monomethyl arsonic acid inhibits the second methylation step. The model predicts time course data from recent experimental studies. We explain why increasing glutathione when it is low increases arsenic methylation and that at very high concentrations increasing glutathione decreases methylation. We explain why the possible temporal variation of the glutathione concentration affects the interpretation of experimental studies that last hours. Conclusions: The mathematical model aids in the interpretation of data from recent experimental studies and shows that the Challenger pathway of arsenic methylation, supplemented by the glutathione effects described above, is sufficient to understand and predict recent experimental data. More experimental studies are needed to explicate the detailed mechanisms of action of glutathione on arsenic methylation. Recent experimental work on the effects of glutathione on arsenic methylation and our modeling study suggest that supplements that increase hepatic glutathione production should be considered as strategies to reduce adverse health effects in affected populations.


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Theoretical Biology and Medical Modelling

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Academic Units
Environmental Health Sciences
Published Here
September 23, 2014