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Redox Rep. 2005;10(5):237-45.

Direct oxidative modifications of signalling proteins in mammalian cells and their effects on apoptosis.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry, Biosciences Institute, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland.


The production of ROS is an inevitable consequence of metabolism. However, high levels of ROS within a cell can be lethal and so the cell has a number of defences against oxidative cell stress. Occasionally the cell's antioxidant mechanisms fail and oxidative stress occurs. High levels of ROS within a cell have a number of direct and indirect consequences on cell signalling pathways and may result in apoptosis or necrosis. Although some of the indirect effects of ROS are well known, limitations in technology mean that the direct effects of the cell's redox environment upon proteins are less understood. Recent work by a number of groups has demonstrated that ROS can directly modify signalling proteins through different modifications, for example by nitrosylation, carbonylation, di-sulphide bond formation and glutathionylation. These modifications modulate a protein's activity and several recent papers have demonstrated their importance in cell signalling events, especially those involved in cell death/survival. Redox modification of proteins allows for further regulation of cell signalling pathways in response to the cellular environment. Understanding them may be critical for us to modulate cell pathways for our own means, such as in cytotoxic drug treatments of cancer cells. Protein modifications mediated by oxidative stress can modulate apoptosis, either through specific protein modifications resulting in regulation of signalling pathways, or through a general increase in oxidised proteins resulting in reduced cellular function. This review discusses direct oxidative protein modifications and their effects on apoptosis.

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