The lung is unique being exposed directly to the atmospheric environment containing xenobiotics, pathogens, and other agents which are continuously inhaled on a daily basis. Additionally, the lung is exposed to higher ambient oxygen levels which can promote the formation of a complex number of reactive oxygen and nitrogen species. Due to this constant barrage of potential damaging agents, the lung has developed a high degree of plasticity in dealing with ever changing conditions. In the present commentary, we will focus on glutathione (GSH) as a key antioxidant in the lung airways and discuss mechanisms by which the lung uses GSH to adapt to its rapidly changing environment. We will then examine the evidence on how defective and inadequate adaptive responses can lead to lung injury, inflammation and disease. Lastly, we will examine some of the recent attempts to alter lung GSH levels with therapies in a number of human lung diseases and discuss some of the limitations of such approaches.
Keywords: Cystic fibrosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, γ-glutamylcysteine ligase, infection and cigarette smoke