One source of reactive oxygen under normal conditions in humans is the leakage of activated oxygen from mitochondria during oxidative phosphorylation. However, ''E. coli'' mutants that lack an active electron transport chain produced as much hydrogen peroxide as wild-type cells, indicating that other enzymes contribute the bulk of oxidants in these organisms. One possibility is that multiple redox-active flavoproteins all contribute a small portion to the overall production of oxidants under normal conditions.
Other enzymes capable of producing superoxide are xanthine oxidase, NADPH oxidases and cytochromes P450. Hydrogen peroxide is produced by a wide variety of enzymes including several oxidases. Reactive oxygen species play important roles in cell signalling, a process termed redox signaling. Thus, to maintain proper cellular homeostasis, a balance must be struck between reactive oxygen production and consumption.
The best studied cellular antioxidants are the enzymes superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase, and glutathione peroxidase. Less well studied (but probably just as important) enzymatic antioxidants are the peroxiredoxins and the recently discovered sulfiredoxin. Other enzymes that have antioxidant properties (though this is not their primary role) include paraoxonase, glutathione-S transferases, and aldehyde dehydrogenases.
Oxidative stress contributes to tissue injury following irradiation and hyperoxia. It is suspected (though not proven) to be important in neurodegenerative diseases including Lou Gehrig's disease (aka MND or ALS), Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, and Huntington's disease. Oxidative stress is thought to be linked to certain cardiovascular disease, since oxidation of LDL in the vascular endothelium is a precursor to plaque formation. Oxidative stress also plays a role in the ischemic cascade due to oxygen reperfusion injury following hypoxia. This cascade includes both strokes and heart attacks. Oxidative stress has also been implicated in chronic fatigue syndrome.
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