Ergothioneine stands out from hercynine in the reaction with singlet oxygen: Resistance to glutathione and TRIS in the generation of specific products indicates high reactivity

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The candidate vitamin ergothioneine (ET), an imidazole-2-thione derivative of histidine betaine, is generally considered an antioxidant. However, the precise physiological role of ET is still unresolved. Here, we investigated in vitro the hypothesis that ET serves specifically to eradicate noxious singlet oxygen (1O2). Pure 1O2 was generated by thermolysis at 37 °C of N,N'-di(2,3-dihydroxypropyl)-1,4-naphthalenedipropanamide 1,4-endoperoxide (DHPNO2). Assays of DHPNO2 with ET or hercynine (= ET minus sulfur) at pH 7.4 were analyzed by LC-MS in full scan mode to detect products. Based on accurate mass and product ion scan data, several products were identified and then quantitated as a function of time by selected reaction monitoring. All products of hercynine contained, after a [4+2] cycloaddition of 1O2, a carbonyl at position 2 of the imidazole ring. By contrast, because of the doubly bonded sulfur, we infer from the products of ET as the initial intermediates a 4,5-dioxetane (after [2+2] cycloaddition) and hydroperoxides at position 4 and 5 (after Schenck ene reactions). The generation of single products from ET, but not from hercynine, was fully resistant to a large excess of tris(hydroxymethyl)aminomethane (TRIS) or glutathione (GSH). This suggests that 1O2 markedly favors ET over GSH (at least 50-fold) and TRIS (at least 250-fold) for the initial reaction. Loss of ET was almost abolished in 5 mM GSH, but not in 25 mM TRIS. Regeneration of ET seems feasible, since some ET products – by contrast to hercynine products - decomposed easily in the MS collision cell to become aromatic again.Graphical abstractHighlightsHypothesis: the key function of ergothioneine (ET) is to eradicate singlet oxygen.In vitro reaction products of ET and singlet oxygen were identified by LC-MS.Generation of some ET products was resistant to a large excess of TRIS or GSH.Interpretation: the reaction mechanisms differ vastly between ET and hercynine.Regeneration seems feasible: the depletion of ET was almost abolished with GSH.

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