A series of thiols having net charge (Z) varying from -2 to +3 were studied using aerobic suspensions of Chinese hamster V79-171 cells in pH 7.4 medium at 297 K to evaluate the rate of uptake by cells and the extent of radioprotection as a function of thiol concentration in cells. For measurement of cellular levels, cells were separated from medium by centrifugation through silicone oil and tritiated water was employed to determine cell water volume. Estimated half-lives for uptake were: 2-mercaptosuccinate (Z = -2), ≥ 1 h; 3-mercaptopropanoate (MPA, Z = -1), <2 min; 2-mercaptoethanol (2ME, Z = 0), <2 min; cysteamine (CyA, Z = +1), <2 min; N-(2-mercaptoethyl)-1,3-diaminopropane (WR-1065, Z ∼ +2), ∼40 min; N1-(2-mercaptoethyl)spermidine (WR-35980, Z ∼ +3), ≥ 10 h. After equilibration the cellular concentration of MPA was 60 ± 8% of the medium level; the corresponding values for 2ME and CyA were 95 ± 3 and 180 ± 12%, respectively, but equilibrium was not reached for the other thiols studied. Those thiols taken up at significant rates were evaluated in terms of their ability to protect against aerobic γ-ray-induced lethality. The results, summarized in terms of the cellular concentration of thiol (mmol <tex-math>${\rm dm}^{-3}$</tex-math>) needed to achieve an aerobic radioprotection factor of 1.5, were as follows: MPA, 80 ± 15; 2ME, 24 ± 2; CyA, 4.7 ± 1.3; WR-1065, 3.4 ± 0.6. These values accorded well with those predicted from hydroxyl radical scavenging and DNA radical repair rates obtained using pBR322 DNA as a model system. This shows that hydroxyl radical scavenging and DNA radical repair are important mechanisms in the protection of cells by thiols and that the net charge on the thiol is a significant factor in its effectiveness. The results indicate that in air hydroxyl radical scavenging is the dominant mode of action by MPA, but that chemical repair of DNA radicals becomes significant for 2ME and is the dominant mechanism of protection for CyA and WR-1065.

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