, Volume 42, Issue 4, pp 569–605 | Cite as

Drug Antioxidant Effects

A Basis for Drug Selection?
  • Barry Halliwell
Review Article


A free radical is any species capable of independent existence that contains one or more unpaired electrons. Free radical reactions have been implicated in the pathology of more than 50 human diseases. Radicals and other reactive oxygen species are formed constantly in the human body, both by deliberate synthesis (e.g. by activated phagocytes) and by chemical side- reactions. They are removed by enzymic and nonenzymic antioxidant defence systems. Oxidative stress, occurring when antioxidant defences are inadequate, can damage lipids, proteins, carbohydrates and DNA. A few clinical conditions are caused by oxidative stress, but more often the stress results from the disease. Sometimes it then makes a significant contribution to the disease pathology, and sometimes it does not. Several antioxidants are available for therapeutic use. They include molecules naturally present in the body [superoxide dismutase (SOD), α-tocopherol, glutathione and its precursors, ascorbic acid, adenosine, lactoferrin and carotenoids] as well as synthetic antioxidants [such as thiols, ebselen (PZ51), xanthine oxidase inhibitors, inhibitors of phagocyte function, iron ion chelators and probucol]. The therapeutic efficacy of SOD, α- tocopherol and ascorbic acid in the treatment of human disease is generally unimpressive to date although dietary deficiencies of the last two molecules should certainly be avoided. Xanthine oxidase inhibitors may be of limited relevance as antioxidants for human use. Exciting preliminary results with probucol (antiatherosclerosis), ebselen (anti-inflammatory), and iron ion chelators (in thalassaemia, leukaemia, malaria, stroke, traumatic brain injury and haemorrhagic shock) need to be confirmed by controlled clinical trials. Clinical testing of N-acetylcysteine in HIV-1-positive subjects may also be merited. A few drugs already in clinical use may have some antioxidant properties, but this ability is not widespread and drug- derived radicals may occasionally cause significant damage.


H202 Probucol Deferoxamine Free Radical Reaction Desferrioxamine 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Adis International Limited 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Barry Halliwell
    • 1
  1. 1.Pulmonary MedicineUC Davis Medical CenterSacramentoUSA

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