Examples of situations in which oxygen radicals are overproduced in cells include:
White blood cells
such as neutrophils specialise in producing oxygen radicals, whichare used in host defense to kill invading pathogens.
Cells exposed to abnormal environments
such as hypoxia or hyperoxia generateabundant and often damaging reactive oxygen species. A number of drugs haveoxidizing effects on cells and lead to production of oxygen radicals.
is well known to generate oxygen radicals within biologicalsystems. Interestingly, the damaging effects of radiation are higher in welloxygenated tissues than in tissues deficient in oxygen.
Biological Effects of Reactive Oxygen
It is best not to think of oxygen radicals as "bad". They are generated in a number of reactionsessential to life and, as mentioned above, phagocytic cells generate radicals to kill invading pathogens. There is also a large body evidence indicating that oxygen radicals are involved inintercellular and intracellular signalling. For example, addition of superoxide or hydrogen peroxide to a variety of cultured cells leads to an increased rate of DNA replication and cell proliferation - in other words, these radicals function as mitogens.
Free radicals in disease
Despite their beneficial activities, reactive oxygen species clearly can be toxic to cells. Bydefinition, radicals possess an unpaired electron, which makes them highly reactive and therebyable to damage all macromolecules, including lipids, proteins and nucleic acids.One of the best known toxic effects of oxygen radicals is damage to cellular membranes (plasma,mitochondrial and endomembrane systems), which is initiated by a process known as
. A common target for peroxidation is unsaturated fatty acids present in membrane phospholipids.