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Free Radic Biol Med. 2001 Nov 1;31(9):1132-8.

Quinoid redox cycling as a mechanism for sustained free radical generation by inhaled airborne particulate matter.

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  • 1Biodynamics Institute, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA 70803, USA.


The health effects of airborne fine particles are the subject of government regulation and scientific debate. The aerodynamics of airborne particulate matter, the deposition patterns in the human lung, and the available experimental and epidemiological data on health effects lead us to focus on airborne particulate matter with an aerodynamic mean diameter less than 2.5 microm (PM(2.5)) as the fraction of the particles with the largest impact in health. In this article we present a novel hypothesis to explain the continuous production of reactive oxygen species produced by PM(2.5) when it is deposited in the lung. We find PM(2.5) contains abundant persistent free radicals, typically 10(16) to 10(17) unpaired spins/gram, and that these radicals are stable for several months. These radicals are consistent with the stability and electron paramagnetic resonance spectral characteristics of semiquinone radicals. Catalytic redox cycling by semiquinone radicals is well documented in the literature and we had studied in detail its role on the health effects of cigarette smoke particulate matter. We believe that we have for the first time shown that the same, or similar radicals, are not confined to cigarette smoke particulate matter but are also present in PM(2.5). We hypothesize that these semiquinone radicals undergo redox cycling, thereby reducing oxygen and generating reactive oxygen species while consuming tissue-reducing equivalents, such as NAD(P)H and ascorbate. These reactive oxygen species generated by particles cause oxidative stress at sites of deposition and produce deleterious effects observed in the lung.

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