Oxidative stress reflects an imbalance between the systemic manifestation of reactive oxygen species and a biological system's ability to readily detoxify the reactive intermediates or to repair the resulting damage. Disturbances in the normal redox state of cells can cause toxic effects through the production of peroxides and free radicals that damage all components of the cell, including proteins, lipids, and DNA. Further, some reactive oxidative species act as cellular messengers in redox signaling. Thus, oxidative stress can cause disruptions in normal mechanisms of cellular signaling.
In humans, oxidative stress is thought to be involved in the development of cancer, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, atherosclerosis, heart failure, myocardial infarction, fragile X syndrome, Sickle Cell Disease, lichen planus, vitiligo, autism, infection, and chronic fatigue syndrome. However, reactive oxygen species can be beneficial, as they are used by the immune system as a way to attack and kill pathogens. Short-term oxidative stress may also be important in prevention of aging by induction of a process named mitohormesis.
Chemical and biological effects
Chemically, oxidative stress is associated with increased production of oxidizing species or a significant decrease in the effectiveness of antioxidant defenses, such as glutathione. The effects of oxidative stress depend upon the size of these changes, with a cell being able to overcome small perturbations and regain its original state. However, more severe oxidative stress can cause cell death and even moderate oxidation can trigger apoptosis, while more intense stresses may cause necrosis.
Production of reactive oxygen species is a particularly destructive aspect of oxidative* stress. Such species include free radicals and peroxides. Some of the less reactive of these species (such as superoxide) can be converted by oxidoreduction reactions with transition metals or other redox cycling compounds (including quinones) into more aggressive radical species that can cause extensive cellular damage. Most long term effects are caused by damage to DNA. DNA damage can be induced by ionizing radiation is similar to oxidative stress, and these lesions have been implicated in aging and cancer. Biological effects of single-base damage by radiation or oxidation, such as 8-oxoguanine and thymine glycol, have been extensively studied. Recently has the focus shifted to some of the more complex lesions. Tandem DNA lesions are formed at substantial frequency by ionizing radiation and metal-catalyzed H2O2 reactions. Under anoxic conditions, the predominant double-base lesion is a species in which C8 of guanine is linked to the 5-methyl group of an adjacent 3'-thymine (G[8,5- Me]T). Most of these oxygen-derived species are produced at a low level by normal aerobic metabolism. Normal cellular defense mechanisms destroy most of these. Likewise, any damage to cells is constantly repaired. However, under the severe levels of oxidative stress that cause necrosis, the damage causes ATP depletion, preventing controlled apoptotic death and causing the cell to simply fall apart.
2, superoxide anion
One-electron reduction state of O
2, formed in many autoxidation reactions and by the electron transport chain. Rather unreactive but can release Fe2+
from iron-sulfur proteins and ferritin. Undergoes dismutation to form H
2 spontaneously or by enzymatic catalysis and is a precursor for metal-catalyzed •OH formation.
2, hydrogen peroxide
Two-electron reduction state, formed by dismutation of •O−
2 or by direct reduction of O
2. Lipid soluble and thus able to diffuse across membranes.
|•OH, hydroxyl radical||Three-electron reduction state, formed by Fenton reaction and decomposition of peroxynitrite. Extremely reactive, will attack most cellular components|
|ROOH, organic hydroperoxide||Formed by radical reactions with cellular components such as lipids and nucleobases.|
|RO•, alkoxy and ROO•, peroxy radicals||Oxygen centred organic radicals. Lipid forms participate in lipid peroxidation reactions. Produced in the presence of oxygen by radical addition to double bonds or hydrogen abstraction.|
|HOCl, hypochlorous acid||
Formed from H
2 by myeloperoxidase. Lipid soluble and highly reactive. Will readily oxidize protein constituents, including thiol groups, amino groups and methionine.
Formed in a rapid reaction between •O−
2 and NO•. Lipid soluble and similar in reactivity to hypochlorous acid. Protonation forms peroxynitrous acid, which can undergo homolytic cleavage to form hydroxyl radical and nitrogen dioxide.
Production and consumption of oxidants
One source of reactive oxygen under normal conditions in humans is the leakage of activated oxygen from  One possibility is that multiple redox-active flavoproteins all contribute a small portion to the overall production of oxidants under normal conditions.
Other enzymes capable of producing superoxide are xanthine oxidase, NADPH oxidases and cytochromes P450. Hydrogen peroxide is produced by a wide variety of enzymes including several oxidases. Reactive oxygen species play important roles in cell signalling, a process termed redox signaling. Thus, to maintain proper cellular homeostasis, a balance must be struck between reactive oxygen production and consumption.
The best studied cellular antioxidants are the enzymes superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase, and glutathione peroxidase. Less well studied (but probably just as important) enzymatic antioxidants are the peroxiredoxins and the recently discovered sulfiredoxin. Other enzymes that have antioxidant properties (though this is not their primary role) include paraoxonase, glutathione-S transferases, and aldehyde dehydrogenases.
The amino acid methionine is prone to oxidation, but oxidized methionine can be reversible. Oxidation of methionine is shown to inhibit the phosphorylation of adjacent Ser/Thr/Tyr sites in proteins. This gives a plausible mechanism for cells to couple oxidative stress signals with cellular mainstream signaling such as phosphorylation.
Oxidative stress and diseases
Oxidative stress is suspected to be important in neurodegenerative diseases including Lou Gehrig's disease (aka MND or ALS), Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, Huntington's disease, and Multiple sclerosis. Indirect evidence via monitoring biomarkers such as reactive oxygen species, and reactive nitrogen species production, antioxidant defense indicates oxidative damage may be involved in the pathogenesis of these diseases, while cumulative oxidative stress with disrupted mitochondrial respiration and mitochondrial damage are related with Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and other neurodegenerative diseases.
Oxidative stress is thought to be linked to certain cardiovascular disease, since oxidation of LDL in the vascular endothelium is a precursor to plaque formation. Oxidative stress also plays a role in the ischemic cascade due to oxygen reperfusion injury following hypoxia. This cascade includes both strokes and heart attacks. Oxidative stress has also been implicated in chronic fatigue syndrome. Oxidative stress also contributes to tissue injury following irradiation and hyperoxia, as well as in diabetes.
Oxidative stress is likely to be involved in age-related development of cancer. The reactive species produced in oxidative stress can cause direct damage to the DNA and are therefore mutagenic, and it may also suppress apoptosis and promote proliferation, invasiveness and metastasis. Infection by Helicobacter pylori which increases the production of reactive oxygen and nitrogen species in human stomach is also thought to be important in the development of gastric cancer.
Antioxidants as supplements
The use of antioxidants to prevent disease is controversial. In a high-risk group like smokers, high doses of synthetic beta carotene increased the rate of lung cancer. In less high-risk groups, the use of vitamin E appears to reduce the risk of heart disease, although more recent evidence may in fact suggest the opposite. In other diseases, such as Alzheimer's, the evidence on vitamin E supplementation is mixed. Since dietary sources contain a wider range of carotenoids and vitamin E tocopherols and tocotrienols from whole foods, ex post facto epidemiological studies can have differing conclusions than artificial experiments using isolated compounds. However, AstraZeneca's radical scavenging nitrone drug NXY-059 shows some efficacy in the treatment of stroke.
Oxidative stress (as formulated in Drosophila melanogaster and Caenorhabditis elegans, recent evidence from Michael Ristow's laboratory suggests that oxidative stress may also promote life expectancy of Caenorhabditis elegans by inducing a secondary response to initially increased levels of reactive oxygen species. This process was previously named mitohormesis or mitochondrial hormesis on a purely hypothetical basis. The situation in mammals is even less clear. Recent epidemiological findings support the process of mitohormesis, with a 2007 meta-analysis indicating studies with a low risk of bias (randomization, blinding, follow-up) find that some popular antioxidant supplements (Vitamin A, Beta Carotene, and Vitamin E) may increase mortality risk (although studies more prone to bias reported the reverse).
Metals such as iron, copper, chromium, vanadium, and cobalt are capable of redox cycling in which a single electron may be accepted or donated by the metal. This action catalyzes production of reactive radicals and reactive oxygen species. The presence of such metals in biological systems in an uncomplexed form (not in a protein or other protective metal complex) can significantly increase the level of oxidative stress. These metals are thought to induce Fenton reactions and the Haber-Weiss reaction, in which hydroxyl radical is generated from hydrogen peroxide. The hydroxyl radical then can modify amino acids. For example meta-tyrosine and ortho-tyrosine form by hydroxylation of phenylalanine. Other reactions include lipid peroxidation and oxidation of nucleobases. Metal catalyzed oxidations also lead to irreversible modification of R (Arg), K (Lys), P (Pro) and T (Thr) Excessive oxidative-damage leads to protein degradation or aggregation.
The reaction of transition metals with proteins oxidated by Reactive Oxygen Species or Reactive Nitrogen Species can yield reactive products that accumulate and contribute to aging and disease. For example, in Alzheimer's patients, peroxidized lipids and proteins accumulate in lysosomes of the brain cells.
Non-metal redox catalysts
Certain organic compounds in addition to metal redox catalyts can also produce reactive oxygen species. One of the most important classes of these are the quinones. Quinones can redox cycle with their conjugate semiquinones and hydroquinones, in some cases catalyzing the production of superoxide from dioxygen or hydrogen peroxide from superoxide.
The immune system uses the lethal effects of oxidants by making production of oxidizing species a central part of its mechanism of killing pathogens; with activated phagocytes producing both ROS and reactive nitrogen species. These include superoxide (•O−
2), nitric oxide (•NO) and their particularly reactive product, peroxynitrite (ONOO-). Although the use of these highly reactive compounds in the cytotoxic response of phagocytes causes damage to host tissues, the non-specificity of these oxidants is an advantage since they will damage almost every part of their target cell. This prevents a pathogen from escaping this part of immune response by mutation of a single molecular target.
- Bruce Ames
- Denham Harman
- Malondialdehyde, an oxidative stress marker
- Mitochondrial free radical theory of aging
- Nitric oxide
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