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IUBMB Life. 1999 Aug;48(2):157-61.

Superoxide and iron: partners in crime.

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Department of Biochemistry, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina 27710, USA.


Superoxide (O2-) poses multiple threats, which are diminished by a family of metalloenzymes, the superoxide dismutases. Among the damaging effects of O2- are direct oxidation of low-molecular-weight reductants; inactivation of a select group of enzymes; and reaction with NO to yield the strong oxidant, peroxynitrite. Of even greater import is the ability of O2- to univalently oxidize the [4 Fe-4 S] clusters of dehydratases, which causes release of iron. The "free" iron, which is kept reduced by cellular reductants, then reduces hydroperoxides to hydroxyl or alkoxyl radicals. Because the "free" iron will preferentially bind to anionic polymers, such as nucleic acids, or to anionic surfaces, such as cell membranes, these radicals will be generated adjacent to these vital targets and will preferentially attack them. O2- and iron can thus be viewed as partners in crime, and reciprocal regulatory effects between iron and O2- may be anticipated. These are discussed.

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