Uptake and protective effects of ergothioneine in human endothelial cells

Rachel W.S. Li, C. Yang, Albert S.M. Sit, Y. W. Kwan, Simon M.Y. Lee, Maggie P.M. Hoi, S. W. Chan, Marvin Hausman, Paul M. Vanhoutte, George P.H. Leung*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Citations (Scopus)


Ergothioneine is a thiourea derivative of histidine found in food, especially mushrooms. Experiments in cell-free systems and chemical assays identified this compound as a powerful antioxidant. Experiments were designed to test the ability of endothelial cells to take up ergothioneine and hence benefit from protection against oxidative stress. Reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction and Western blotting demonstrated transcription and translation of an ergothioneine transporter in human brain microvascular endothelial cells (HBMECs). Uptake of [3H]ergothioneine occurred by the organic cation transporter novel type-1 (OCTN-1), was sodium-dependent, and was reduced when expression of OCTN-1 was silenced by small interfering RNA (siRNA). The effect of ergothioneine on the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in HBMECs was measured using dichlorodihydrofluorescein and lucigenin, and the effect on cell viability was studied using the MTT [3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyltetrazolium bromide] assay. ROS production and cell death induced by pyrogallol, xanthine oxidase plus xanthine, and high glucose were suppressed by ergothioneine. The antioxidant and cytoprotective effects of ergothioneine were abolished when OCTN-1 was silenced using siRNA. The expression of NADPH oxidase 1 was decreased, and those of glutathione reductase, catalase, and superoxide dismutase enhanced by the compound. In isolated rat basilar arteries, ergothioneine attenuated the reduction in acetylcholine-induced relaxation caused by pyrogallol, xanthine oxidase plus xanthine, or incubation in high glucose. Chronic treatment with the compound improved the response to acetylcholine in arteries of rats with streptozotocin-induced diabetes. In summary, ergothioneine is taken up by endothelial cells via OCTN-1, where the compound then protects against oxidative stress, curtailing endothelial dysfunction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)691-700
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes


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