Ergothioneine is a fungal metabolite that may have antioxidant functions in mammalian cells. Although it accumulates to low millimolar concentrations in liver and other tissues, it is not thought to be taken up by mature erythrocytes. During a study of the function of ergothioneine as an antioxidant in human erythrocytes, we found that these cells do take up ergothioneine from the surrounding medium. Ergothioneine concentrations in freshly prepared erythrocytes were 2–9-fold higher than in plasma from the same donor. Slow but progressive accumulation of ergothioneine to about 125% of basal levels was observed in erythrocytes over a 4 h incubation. After a 2 h incubation, intracellular ergothioneine concentrations rose on addition of increasing amounts of ergothioneine to the incubation medium, although saturation was not evident in cells from all donors. Both initial levels and rates of ergothioneine uptake varied in erythrocytes from different donors. Intracellular ergothioneine was stable to depletion of GSH by N-ethylmaleimide and to a more severe oxidant stress induced by hydrogen peroxide in the presence of catalase. These results show that human erythrocytes do take up ergothioneine; however, the GSH results do not support an antioxidant role for ergothioneine in erythrocytes.

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