Reactive Oxygen Species and the Central Nervous System

  • B. Halliwell
Conference paper


Radicals are species containing one or more unpaired electrons. The oxygen radical superoxide (O 2 - ) and the non-radical oxidants hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) and hypochlorous acid (HOCl) are produced during normal metabolism and perform several useful functions. Excessive production of O 2 - and H2O2 can result in tissue damage, which often involves generation of highly reactive hydroxy 1 radical (· OH) and other oxidants in the presence of “catalytic” iron or copper ions. A major form of antioxidant defence is the storage and transport of iron or copper ions in forms that will not catalyze formation of reactive radicals. Tissue injury, e. g., by ischaemia or trauma, can cause increased iron availability and accelerate free radical reactions. This may be especially important in the brain, since areas of this organ are rich in iron and cerebrospinal fluid cannot bind released iron ions. Oxidative stress upon nervous tissue can produce damage by several interacting mechanisms, including rises in intracellular free Ca2+ and, possibly, release of excitatory amino acids. Recent suggestions that free radical reactions are involved in the neurotoxicity of aluminium and in damage to the substantia nigra in Parkinson’s disease are reviewed. Finally, the nature of antioxidants is discussed, with a suggestion that antioxidant enzymes and chelators of iron ions may be more generally useful protective agents than chain-breaking antioxidants. Careful precautions must be taken in the design of antioxidants for therapeutic use.


Lipid Peroxidation Unpaired Electron Excitatory Amino Acid Free Radical Reaction Parkinsonian Brain 
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  • B. Halliwell

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