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Crit Rev Toxicol. 1993;23(2):147-69.

The role of metabolism in the antioxidant function of vitamin E.

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Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, College of Pharmacy, University of Arizona, Tucson 85721.


Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol), the principal chain-breaking antioxidant in biological membranes, prevents toxicant- and carcinogen-induced oxidative damage by trapping reactive oxyradicals. Although alpha-tocopherol antioxidant reactions appear to be not under direct metabolic control, alpha-tocopherol may function through redox cycles, which deliver reducing equivalents for antioxidant reactions and link antioxidant function to cellular metabolism. This review describes the antioxidant chemistry of alpha-tocopherol and evaluates the experimental evidence for the linkage of alpha-tocopherol turnover to cellular metabolism through redox cycles. Numerous in vitro experiments demonstrate antioxidant synergism between alpha-tocopherol and ascorbate, reduced glutathione, NADPH, and cellular electron transport proteins. Nevertheless, evidence that a one-electron redox cycle regenerates alpha-tocopherol from the tocopheroxyl radical is inconclusive. The difficulty of separating tocopheroxyl recycling from direct antioxidant actions of other antioxidants has complicated interpretation of the available data. A two-electron redox cycle involving alpha-tocopherol oxidation to 8a-substituted tocopherones followed by tocopherone reduction to alpha-tocopherol may occur, but would require enzymatic catalysis in vivo. Metabolism of antioxidant-inactive alpha-tocopheryl esters releases alpha-tocopherol, whereas reductive metabolism of alpha-tocopherylquinone, an alpha-tocopherol oxidation product, yields alpha-tocopherylhydroquinone, which also may provide antioxidant protection.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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