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Redox Rep. 2005;10(1):37-51.

Electron paramagnetic resonance study of the generation of reactive oxygen species catalysed by transition metals and quinoid redox cycling by inhalable ambient particulate matter.

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  • 1Department of Chemistry, Campus Zografou, University of Athens, Athens, Greece.


A range of epidemiological studies in the 1990s showed that exposure to ambient particulate matter (PM) is associated with adverse health effects in the respiratory system and increased morbidity and mortality rates. Oxidative stress has emerged as a pivotal mechanism that underlies the toxic pulmonary effects of PM. A key question from a variety of studies was whether the adverse health effects of PM are mediated by the carbonaceous particles of their reactive chemical compounds adsorbed into the particles. Experimental evidence showed that PM contains redox-active transition metals, redox cycling quinoids and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which act synergistically to produce reactive oxygen species (ROS). Fine PM has the ability to penetrate deep into the respiratory tree where it overcomes the antioxidant defences in the fluid lining of the lungs by the oxidative action of ROS. From a previous study [Valavanidis A, Salika A, Theodoropoulou A. Generation of hydroxyl radicals by urban suspended particulate air matter. The role of iron ions. Atmospher Environ 2000; 34 : 2379-2386], we established that ferrous ions in PM play an important role in the generation of hydroxyl radicals in the presence of hydrogen peroxide (H2O2). In the present study, we investigated the synergistic effect of transition metals and persistent quinoid and semiquinone radicals for the generation of ROS without the presence of H2O2. We experimented with airborne particulate matter, such as TSPs (total suspended particulates), fresh automobile exhaust particles (diesel, DEP and gasoline, GEP) and fresh wood smoke soot. Using electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR), we examined the quantities of persistent free radicals, characteristic of a mixture of quinoid radicals with different structures and a carbonaceous core of carbon-centred radicals. We extracted, separated and analysed the quinoid compounds by EPR at alkaline solution (pH 9.5) and by TLC. Also, we studied the direct production of superoxide anion and the damaging hydroxyl radical in aqueous and in DMSO suspensions of PM without H2O2. From these results, it is suggested that the cytotoxic and carcinogenic potential of PM can be partly the result of redox cycling of persistent quinoid radicals, which generate large amounts of ROS. In the second phase, the water-soluble fraction of PM elicits DNA damage via reactive transition metal-dependent formation of hydroxyl radicals, implicating an important role for hydrogen peroxide. Together, these data indicate the importance of mechanisms involving redox cycling of quinones and Fenton-type reactions by transition metals in the generation of ROS. These results are supported by recent studies indicating cytotoxic effects, especially mitochondrial damage, by PM extracts and differential mechanisms of cell killing by redox cycling quinones.

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