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Treat Respir Med. 2005;4(3):175-200.

The role of oxidative stress in the pathogenesis of COPD: implications for therapy.

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  • 1Department of Environmental Medicine, Division of Lung Biology and Disease, University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, New York 14642, USA.


Chronic inflammation and oxidative stress are important features in the pathogenesis of COPD. The increased oxidative stress in patients with COPD is the result of an increased burden of inhaled oxidants, as well as increased amounts of reactive oxygen species (ROS) generated by various inflammatory, immune and epithelial cells of the airways. Oxidative stress has important implications on several events of lung physiology and for the pathogenesis of COPD. These include oxidative inactivation of antiproteases and surfactants, mucus hypersecretion, membrane lipid peroxidation, mitochondrial respiration, alveolar epithelial injury, remodeling of extracellular matrix, and apoptosis. An increased level of ROS produced in the airways is reflected by increased markers of oxidative stress in the airspaces, sputum, breath, lungs, and blood in patients with COPD. The biomarkers of oxidative stress such as H2O2, F2-isoprostanes, malondialdehyde and 4-hydroxy-2-nonenal have been successfully measured in breath condensate. ROS and aldehydes play a key role in enhancing the inflammation through the activation of mitogen-activated protein kinases and redox-sensitive transcription factors such as nuclear factor kappa B and activator protein-1. Oxidative stress also alters nuclear histone acetylation and deacetylation leading to increased gene expression of pro-inflammatory mediators in the lung. Oxidative stress may play a role in the poor clinical efficacy of corticosteroids in the treatment of COPD. Since a variety of oxidants, free radicals, and aldehydes are implicated in the pathogenesis of COPD it is likely that a combination of antioxidants may be effective in the treatment of COPD. Antioxidant compounds may also be of therapeutic value in monitoring oxidative biomarkers indicating disease progression. Various approaches to enhance the lung antioxidant screen and the clinical effectiveness of antioxidant compounds in the treatment of COPD are discussed.

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