Intracellular antioxidants: from chemical to biochemical mechanisms

Food Chem Toxicol. 1999 Sep-Oct;37(9-10):949-62. doi: 10.1016/s0278-6915(99)00090-3.


Intracellular antioxidants include low molecular weight scavengers of oxidizing species, and enzymes which degrade superoxide and hydroperoxides. Such antioxidants systems prevent the uncontrolled formation of free radicals and activated oxygen species, or inhibit their reactions with biological structures. Hydrophilic scavengers are found in cytosolic, mitochondrial and nuclear compartments. Ascorbate and glutathione scavenge oxidizing free radicals in water by means of one-electron or hydrogen atom transfer. Similarly, ergothioneine scavenges hydroxyl radicals at very high rates, but it acts more specifically as a chemical scavenger of hypervalent ferryl complexes, halogenated oxidants and peroxynitrite-derived nitrating species, and as a physical quencher of singlet oxygen. Hydrophobic scavengers are found in cell membranes where they inhibit or interrupt chain reactions of lipid peroxidation. In animal cells, they include alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E) which is a primary scavenger of lipid peroxyl radicals, and carotenoids which are secondary scavengers of free radicals as well as physical quenchers of singlet oxygen. The main antioxidant enzymes include dismutases such as superoxide dismutases (SOD) and catalases, which do not consume cofactors, and peroxidases such as selenium-dependent glutathione peroxidases (GPx) in animals or ascorbate peroxidases (APx) in plants. The reducing coenzymes of peroxidases, and as a rule all reducing components of the antioxidant network, are regenerated at the expense of NAD(P)H produced in specific metabolic pathways. Synergistic and co-operative interactions of antioxidants rely on the sequential degradation of peroxides and free radicals as well as on mutual protections of enzymes. This antioxidant network can induce metabolic deviations and plays an important role in the regulation of protein expression and/or activity at the transcriptional or post-translational levels. Its biological significance is discussed in terms of environmental adaptations and functional regulations of aerobic cells.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antioxidants / chemistry*
  • Antioxidants / metabolism*
  • Ascorbic Acid / chemistry
  • Carotenoids / chemistry
  • Catalase / chemistry
  • Cytosol / metabolism
  • Ergothioneine / chemistry
  • Eukaryotic Cells / metabolism*
  • Free Radical Scavengers / chemistry
  • Glutathione / chemistry
  • Glutathione Disulfide / chemistry
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Plants
  • Superoxide Dismutase / chemistry
  • Vitamin E / chemistry


  • Antioxidants
  • Free Radical Scavengers
  • Vitamin E
  • Carotenoids
  • Ergothioneine
  • Catalase
  • Superoxide Dismutase
  • Glutathione
  • Ascorbic Acid
  • Glutathione Disulfide