Reactive oxygen species (ROS) play a central role as second messengers in many signal transduction pathways, where they can post-translationally modify proteins via the oxidation of redox sensitive cysteine residues. The range of cellular processes under redox regulation is extensive and includes both the proliferative and apoptotic pathways. Control of the cellular redox environment is therefore essential for normal physiological function and perturbations to this redox balance are characteristic of many pathological states. Oxidative stress is particularly prevalent in cancer, where many malignant cell types posses an abnormal redox metabolism involving down-regulation of antioxidant enzymes and impaired mitochondrial function. This provides a major opportunity to design therapeutic strategies to selectively target cancer cells based on their redox profile. This review will provide a background to this emerging field by summarizing the known redox biochemistry of ROS signaling. The mechanisms of ROS generation by the action of oxidoreductases and nitric oxide synthases will be discussed in conjunction with the cells major antioxidant defenses, with especial emphasis placed on the subcellular location of these redox reactions. The effect of ROS on proliferation and apoptosis will be examined by looking at interactions with transcription factors and the Akt, TNF and MAPK signaling pathways. The review will also outline the major differences in redox metabolism between cancer cells and their non-malignant counterparts. Although the full extent of the ROS regulation of signaling pathways is only beginning to be mapped, early indications are that this paradigm will provide new therapeutic targets for cancer therapy.
Keywords: ROS, thiol, signal, transduction, antioxidant, cysteine, cancer