Descriptions that organosulfurs could alter biologically relevant cellular functions began some 40 years ago when cell mediated and humoral murine in vitro immune responses were reported to be dramatically enhanced by any of four xenobiotic, sulfhydryl compounds—2-mercaptoethanol (2-ME), dithiothreitol, glutathione, and l-cysteine; the most effective of the four was 2-ME. These findings triggered a plethora of reports defining 2-ME benefits for a multitude of immunological processes, primarily with murine models. This led to investigations on 2-ME alterations of (a) immune functions in other species, (b) activities of other cell-types, and (c) in situ diseases. In addition, the early findings may have been instrumental in the identification of the previously undefined anticarcinogenic chemicals in specific foods as organosulfurs. Outside the plant organosulfurs, there are no comprehensive reviews of these areas to help define mechanisms by which organosulfurs function as well as identify potential alternative uses. Therefore, the present review will focus on 2-ME alterations of in vitro immune functions in species other than murine; namely, fish, amphibian, reptile, avian, whales, dolphins, rat, hamster, rabbit, guinea pig, feline, canine, porcine, ovine, bovine, and human. Processes, some unique to a given species, were in general, enhanced and in some cases dependent upon the presence of 2-ME. The largest benefits occurred in media that were serum free, followed by those in autologous serum and then fetal bovine serum supplemented medium. Concentrations of 2-ME were generally in the low μM range, with exceptions of those for salamander (20 mM), turtles (70 mM) and dolphins (7 mM). The few studies designed to assess mechanisms found that changes induced by 2-ME were generally accompanied by alterations of reduced/oxidized glutathione cellular concentrations. The major benefit for most studies, however, was to increase the sensitivity of the culture environment, which permitted a specific process to be more easily dissected.
2-ME altered in vitro immune functions of species other than murine.
Benefits were found for species from fish to humans.
Enhancement occurred in serum-free and in autologous or fetal bovine serum.
Generally, optimal concentrations of 2-ME were in the low uM range.
Concentration exceptions were salamander (20 mM), turtles (70 mM), and dolphins (7 mM).