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Fundamental Aerosol Properties

Molecular Basis of Glutathione Aerosols


Glutathione (GSH), the most abundant nonenzymatic antioxidant in living systems, actively scavenges various exogenous/endogenous oxidizing species, defending important biomolecules against oxidative damages. Although it is well established that the antioxidant activity of GSH originates from the cysteinyl thiol (−SH) group, the molecular origin that makes the thiol group of GSH a stronger reducing agent than other thiol-containing proteins is unclear.

To gain insights into the molecular basis underlying GSH’s superior antioxidant capability, here we report, for the first time, the valence electronic structures of solvated GSH in the aqueous aerosol form via the aerosol vacuum ultraviolet photoelectron spectroscopy technique. The pH-dependent electronic evolution of GSH is obtained, and the possible correlations between GSH and its constituting amino acids are interrogated. The valence band maxima (VBMs) for GSH aqueous aerosols are found at 7.81, 7.61, 7.52, and 5.51 ± 0.10 eV at a pH of 1.00, 2.74, 7.00, and 12.00, respectively, which appear to be lower than the values of their corresponding hybrid counterparts collectively contributed from the three isolated constituting amino acids of GSH. An additional photoelectron feature is observed for GSH aqueous aerosols at pH = 12.00, where the thiol group on its Cys residue becomes deprotonated and the relatively well-separated feature allows its vertical ionization energy (VIE) to be determined as 6.70 ± 0.05 eV. Compared to a VIE of 6.97 ± 0.05 eV obtained for a similar thiolate feature observed previously for isolated Cys aqueous aerosols, a 0.27 eV reduction in the VIE is found for GSH, indicating that the outermost electron corresponding to the nonbonding electron on the thiolate group can be removed more readily from the GSH tripeptide than that from Cys alone. The possible origins underlying the decrease in the VBM of GSH with respect to that of each corresponding hybrid counterpart and the decrease in the VIE of the thiolate feature of GSH with respect to that of the isolated Cys are discussed, providing hints to understand the superior antioxidant capability of GSH from a molecular level.

This work reports the first pH-dependent valence electronic structure of GSH in aqueous aerosols and illustrates the crucial importance of probing the valence electronic properties of the redox-active biomolecules under physiologically relevant aqueous conditions. Finally, we demonstrate the aerosol VUV photoelectron spectroscopy apparatus, equipped with a high-resolution hemispherical energy analyzer, to be a powerful investigation tool in unraveling detailed electronic structural information of solvated species in the aqueous nanoaerosol form.



Chang, P.-C., Yu, Y., Wu, Z.-H., Lin, P.-C., Chen, W.-R., Su, C.-C., Chen, M.-S., Li Y.-L., Huang T.-P., Lee Y.-Y., Wang, C. C.* (2016): Molecular basis of the antioxidant capability of glutathione unraveled via aerosol VUV photoelectron spectroscopy. J. Phys. Chem. B 120, 10181-10191. (link)