In the forebrain from male Wistar rats aged 5, 15 and 25 months, age-related putative alterations in the glutathione system (reduced and oxidized glutathione; redox index) were chronically induced by the administration in drinking water of free radical generators (hydrogen peroxide, ferrous chloride) or of inhibitors of endogenous free radical defenses (diethyl-dithio-carbamate, an inhibitor of superoxide dismutase activity). In hydrogen peroxide administered rats, both reduced glutathione and the cerebral glutathione redox index markedly declined as a function of aging, whereas oxidized glutathione consistently increased. In contrast, chronic iron intake failed to modify the reduced glutathione in forebrain from the rats of the different ages tested, whereas the oxidized glutathione was increased in the older brains. The chronic intake of diethyl-dithio-carbamate enhanced the concentrations of reduced glutathione in the forebrains from the rats of the different ages tested, the oxidized glutathione being unchanged. In 15-month-old rats submitted to chronic oxidative stress, ergot alkaloids (and particularly dihydroergocriptine) interfered with cerebral glutathione system, while papaverine was always ineffective. The comprehensive analysis of the data indicates that: (a) both the type of oxidative stress and the age of the animals modulate the cerebral responsiveness to the putative modifiers in the level of tissue free radicals; (b) aging magnifies the cerebral alterations induced by oxidative stress; the (c) cerebral glutathione system may be modified by metabolic rather than by circulatory interferences; (d) a balance between the various cerebral antioxidant defenses is present, the perturbation of an antioxidant system resulting in the compensatory modified activity of component(s) of another system
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