, Volume 22, Issue 11, pp 1321–1335 | Cite as

Induction of reactive oxygen species: an emerging approach for cancer therapy

  • Zhengzhi ZouEmail author
  • Haocai Chang
  • Haolong Li
  • Songmao Wang


Reactive oxygen species (ROS), a group of ions and molecules, include hydroxyl radicals (·OH), alkoxyl radicals, superoxide anion (O2·−), singlet oxygen (1O2) and hydrogen peroxide (H2O2). Hydroxyl radicals and alkoxyl radicals are extremely and highly reactive species respectively. Endogenous ROS are mainly formed in mitochondrial respiratory chain. Low levels of ROS play important roles in regulating biological functions in mammalian cells. However, excess production of ROS can induce cell death by oxidative damaging effects to intracellular biomacromolecules. Cancer cell death types induced by ROS include apoptotic, autophagic, ferroptotic and necrotic cell death. Since abnormal metabolism in cancer cells, they have higher ROS content compared to normal cells. The higher endogenous ROS levels in cancer cells endow them more susceptible to the ROS-induction treatment. Indeed, some anticancer drugs currently used in clinic, such as molecular targeted drugs and chemotherapeutic agents, effectively kill cancer cells by inducing ROS generation. In addition, photodynamic therapy (PDT) is mainly based on induction of ROS burst to kill cancer cells. The mechanism of cell death induced by radiotherapy using ionizing radiation also refers to ROS production. Moreover, ROS play an important role in tumor immune therapy. Altogether, combining above traditional treatments with ROS-induced agents will be considered as a promising strategy in cancer therapy. In this review, we focus on our current understanding of the anticancer effects of ROS.


ROS Cancer Cell death Therapy 



This study was supported by grants from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Nos. 81402187 and 81772803), the Ph. D Start-up Fund of Natural Science Foundation of Guangdong Province (No. 2014A030310505 to Z. Zou), the Foundation for Distinguished Young Talents in Higher Education of Guangdong (No. C1085229 to Z. Zou).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no competing financial interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Zhengzhi Zou
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Haocai Chang
    • 1
  • Haolong Li
    • 1
  • Songmao Wang
    • 1
  1. 1.MOE Key Laboratory of Laser Life Science and Institute of Laser Life Science, College of BiophotonicsSouth China Normal UniversityGuangzhouChina
  2. 2.Joint Laboratory of Laser Oncology with Cancer Center of Sun Yat-sen UniversitySouth China Normal UniversityGuangzhouChina

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