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Reactive Oxygen Species In Cell Responses To Toxic Agents

L E Feinendegen

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This review first summarizes experimental data on biological effects of different concentrations of ROS in mammalian cells and on their potential role in modifying cell responses to toxic agents. It then attempts to link the role of steadily produced metabolic ROS at various concentrations in mammalian cells to that of environmentally derived ROS bursts from exposure to ionizing radiation. The ROS from both sources are known to both cause biological damage and change cellular signaling, depending on their concentration at a given time. At low concentrations signaling effects of ROS appear to protect cellular survival and dominate over damage, and the reverse occurs at high ROS concentrations. Background radiation generates suprabasal ROS bursts along charged particle tracks several times a year in each nanogram of tissue, i.e., average mass of a mammalian cell. For instance, a burst of about 200 ROS occurs within less than a microsecond from low-LET irradiation such as X-rays along the track of a Compton electron (about 6 keV, ranging about 1 μm). One such track per nanogram tissue gives about 1 mGy to this mass. The number of instantaneous ROS per burst along the track of a 4-meV ¬-particle in 1 ng tissue reaches some 70000. The sizes, types and sites of these bursts, and the time intervals between them directly in and around cells appear essential for understanding low-dose and low dose-rate effects on top of effects from endogenous ROS. At background and low-dose radiation exposure, a major role of ROS bursts along particle tracks focuses on ROS-induced apoptosis of damage-carrying cells, and also on prevention and removal of DNA damage from endogenous sources by way of temporarily protective, i.e., adaptive, cellular responses. A conclusion is to consider low-dose radiation exposure as a provider of physiological mechanisms for tissue homoeostasis.