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Thiol–disulfide exchange is the principal reaction by which disulfide bonds are formed and rearranged in a protein. The rearrangement of disulfide bonds within a protein generally occurs via intra-protein thiol–disulfide exchange reactions; a thiolate group of a cysteine residue attacks one of the protein's own disulfide bonds. This process of disulfide rearrangement (known as disulfide shuffling) does not change the number of disulfide bonds within a protein, merely their location (i. e. , which cysteines are bonded). Disulfide reshuffling is generally much faster than oxidation/reduction reactions, which change the number of disulfide bonds within a protein. The oxidation and reduction of protein disulfide bonds in vitro also generally occurs via thiol–disulfide exchange reactions. Typically, the thiolate of a redox reagent such as glutathione or dithiothreitol attacks the disulfide bond on a protein forming a mixed disulfide bond between the protein and the reagent. This mixed disulfide bond when attacked by another thiolate from the reagent, leaves the cysteine oxidized. In effect, the disulfide bond is transferred from the protein to the reagent in two steps, both thiol–disulfide exchange reactions.

In inorganic chemistry disulfide usually refers to the corresponding anion S 2−
2 ( − S−S − ), for example in disulfur dichloride .

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