L-Cysteine is essential for virtually all living organisms, from bacteria to higher eukaryotes. Besides having a role in the synthesis of virtually all proteins and of taurine, cysteamine, glutathione, and other redox-regulating proteins, L-cysteine has important functions under anaerobic/microaerophilic conditions. In anaerobic or microaerophilic protozoan parasites, such as Entamoeba histolytica, L-cysteine has been implicated in growth, attachment, survival, and protection from oxidative stress. However, a specific role of this amino acid or related metabolic intermediates is not well understood. In this study, using stableisotope- labeled L-cysteine and capillary electrophoresis-time of flight mass spectrometry, we investigated the metabolism of L-cysteine in E. histolytica. [U-13C3,15N]L-cysteine was rapidly metabolized into three unknown metabolites, besides L-cystine and L-alanine. These metabolites were identified as thiazolidine-4-carboxylic acid (T4C), 2-methyl thiazolidine-4-carboxylic acid (MT4C), and 2-ethyl-thiazolidine-4-carboxylic acid (ET4C), the condensation products of L-cysteine with aldehydes. We demonstrated that these 2-(R)-thiazolidine-4-carboxylic acids serve for storage of L-cysteine. Liberation of L-cysteine occurred when T4C was incubated with amebic lysates, suggesting enzymatic degradation of these L-cysteine derivatives. Furthermore, T4C and MT4C significantly enhanced trophozoite growth and reduced intracellular reactive oxygen species (ROS) levels when it was added to cultures, suggesting that 2-(R)-thiazolidine-4-carboxylic acids are involved in the defense against oxidative stress.
IMPORTANCE Amebiasis is a human parasitic disease caused by the protozoan parasite Entamoeba histolytica. In this parasite, L-cysteine is the principal low-molecular-weight thiol and is assumed to play a significant role in supplying the amino acid during trophozoite invasion, particularly when the parasites move from the anaerobic intestinal lumen to highly oxygenated tissues in the intestine and the liver. It is well known that E. histolytica needs a comparatively high concentration of L-cysteine for its axenic cultivation. However, the reason for and the metabolic fate of L-cysteine in this parasite are not well understood. Here, using a metabolomic and stable-isotope-labeled approach, we investigated the metabolic fate of this amino acid in these parasites. We found that L-cysteine inside the cell rapidly reacts with aldehydes to form 2-(R)-thiazolidine-4-carboxylic acid. We showed that these 2-(R)-thiazolidine-4-carboxylic derivatives serve as an L-cysteine source, promote growth, and protect cells against oxidative stress by scavenging aldehydes and reducing the ROS level. Our findings represent the first demonstration of 2-(R)-thiazolidine-4-carboxylic acids and their roles in protozoan parasites.
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