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Crit Care. 2010;14(5):234. doi: 10.1186/cc9185. Epub 2010 Oct 11.

Clinical review: oxygen as a signaling molecule.

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Department of Anesthesiology, Duke University School of Medicine, Box 3094, Durham, NC 27710, USA.


Molecular oxygen is obviously essential for conserving energy in a form useable for aerobic life; however, its utilization comes at a cost--the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS). ROS can be highly damaging to a range of biological macromolecules, and in the past the overproduction of these short-lived molecules in a variety of disease states was thought to be exclusively toxic to cells and tissues such as the lung. Recent basic research, however, has indicated that ROS production--in particular, the production of hydrogen peroxide--plays an important role in both intracellular and extracellular signal transduction that involves diverse functions from vascular health to host defense. The present review summarizes oxygen's capacity, acting through its reactive intermediates, to recruit the enzymatic antioxidant defenses, to stimulate cell repair processes, and to mitigate cellular damage.

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