Drug Discov Ther. 2010;4(3):144-167.

Free radicals in the regulation of damage and cell death - basic mechanisms and prevention.

Silva JP, Coutinho OP


Reactive oxygen (ROS) and nitrogen (RNS) species are known to accumulate intracellularly due to both exogenous and/or endogenous factors. In normal physiological conditions, these reactive species are maintained in an equilibrium state by the cells' antioxidant defence systems. In addition, they are recognised to play important roles in several physiological functions. However, when an imbalance in the equilibrium between oxidants and antioxidants occurs in favour of the former, we come to a situation defined as oxidative stress. ROS/RNS can cause damage to all biomolecules (namely proteins, lipids and DNA) and ultimately participate in the regulation of mechanisms leading to cell death, being implicated in the etiology of several pathologies (like neurodegenerative and cardiovascular diseases). To cope with oxidative stress, cells possess effective enzymatic (e.g. superoxide dismutase, catalase, glutathione peroxidase) and non-enzymatic (e.g. glutathione, thioredoxin, coenzyme Q) antioxidant systems. In addition, several compounds present in plants and vegetables (e.g. vitamins C and E, polyphenols) have been described to react with free radicals. However, some drawbacks associated to these natural compounds are in part responsible for the undergoing development of novel synthetic compounds capable of acting as antioxidants and protect cells against oxidative stress-induced cell death. Here, we review the basic mechanisms of ROS/RNS formation, as well as their interaction with biomolecules and regulation of cell death, in order to identify possible drug targets. We also report the importance of natural antioxidant systems and the ongoing research leading to the development of more powerful and effective antioxidant drugs.

KEYWORDS: Oxidative stress, ROS/RNS, antioxidants, cell death

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