Uncertainties about the composition and identities of glutathione S-transferases (GSTs) in human tissue have impeded studies on their biological functions. A rigorous protocol has therefore been developed to characterize the human proteins. Cytosolic GST subunits were resolved by reverse-phase HPLC methods, individual components were assigned to Alpha, Mu and Pi classes on the basis of their immunoreactivities, and peptide-sequence-specific antisera were used to distinguish among five different Mu-class subunits (GSTM1–GSTM5). Each subunit type was characterized and identified unambiguously by electrospray ionization-MS. Acetylation of N-terminal residues in the GSTA1, GSTA2, GSTM3 and GSTM4 subunits were the only natural post-translational modifications detected. The unique structure of GSTM3, with N- and C-terminal peptide extensions predicted from cDNA sequences, was confirmed. Only testis and brain were rich sources of GSTM3 subunits. Subunit profiles were distinct and characteristic of the particular tissue type, and this tissue specificity in GST expression was evident even in organs from different individuals. For instance, livers had relatively simple GST compositions, consisting of a preponderance of Alpha-class subunits and GSTM1 (when present). By contrast, representation of most subunit types was a characteristic feature of testis, which had the highest levels of GSTs. GSTM4 and GSTM5 subunits, here identified for the first time in human tissue extracts, were minor components, with GSTM5 found only in brain, lung and testis. Specimens devoid of GSTM1 subunits, particularly those from null-genotype individuals, were readily discerned at the protein level. Liver was the only rich source of the GSTM1 subunit (although it also constituted a major fraction of adrenal GSTs), and so the functional consequences of the GSTM1 gene deletion are likely to vary in extrahepatic tissues.

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