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Food Chem Toxicol. 2013 Nov;61:240-7. doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2013.08.074. Epub 2013 Sep 8.

Biological importance of reactive oxygen species in relation to difficulties of treating pathologies involving oxidative stress by exogenous antioxidants.

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Institute of Experimental Pharmacology & Toxicology, Slovak Academy of Sciences, Bratislava, Slovakia. Electronic address:


Findings about involvement of reactive oxygen species (ROS) not only in defense processes, but also in a number of pathologies, stimulated discussion about their role in etiopathogenesis of various diseases. Yet questions regarding the role of ROS in tissue injury, whether ROS may serve as a common cause of different disorders or whether their uncontrolled production is just a manifestation of the processes involved, remain unexplained. Dogmatically, increased ROS formation is considered to be responsible for development of the so-called free-radical diseases. The present review discusses importance of ROS in various biological processes, including origin of life, evolution, genome plasticity, maintaining homeostasis and organism protection. This may be a reason why no significant benefit was found when exogenous antioxidants were used to treat free-radical diseases, even though their causality was primarily attributed to ROS. Here, we postulate that ROS unlikely play a causal role in tissue damage, but may readily be involved in signaling processes and as such in mediating tissue healing rather than injuring. This concept is thus in a contradiction to traditional understanding of ROS as deleterious agents. Nonetheless, under conditions of failing autoregulation, ROS may attack integral cellular components, cause cell death and deteriorate the evolving injury.


Biological importance of reactive oxygen species; Deleterious action; Exogenous antioxidants; Signaling role; Tissue injury

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