Toxic metals (lead, cadmium, mercury and arsenic) are widely found in our environment. Humans are exposed to these metals from numerous sources, including contaminated air, water, soil and food. Recent studies indicate that transition metals act as catalysts in the oxidative reactions of biological macromolecules therefore the toxicities associated with these metals might be due to oxidative tissue damage. Redox-active metals, such as iron, copper and chromium, undergo redox cycling whereas redox-inactive metals, such as lead, cadmium, mercury and others deplete cells major antioxidants, particularly thiol-containing antioxidants and enzymes. Either redox-active or redox-inactive metals may cause an increase in production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) such as hydroxyl radical (HO.), superoxide radical (O2.-) or hydrogen peroxide (H2O2). Enhanced generation of ROS can overwhelm cells intrinsic antioxidant defenses, and result in a condition known as “oxidative stress”. Cells under oxidative stress display various dysfunctions due to lesions caused by ROS to lipids, proteins and DNA. Consequently, it is suggested that metal-induced oxidative stress in cells can be partially responsible for the toxic effects of heavy metals. Several studies are underway to determine the effect of antioxidant supplementation following heavy metal exposure. Data suggest that antioxidants may play an important role in abating some hazards of heavy metals. In order to prove the importance of using antioxidants in heavy metal poisoning, pertinent biochemical mechanisms for metal-induced oxidative stress should be reviewed.
Department of Chemistry,University of Missouri-Rolla, 142 Schrenk Hall, Rolla, MO 65409-0010,USA.