Pathophysiologic role of oxygen free radicals in acute pancreatitis: initiating event or mediator of tissue damage?

Ann Surg. 2000 Mar;231(3):352-60. doi: 10.1097/00000658-200003000-00008.


Background and objective: Oxidative stress is an important factor in the pathogenesis of acute pancreatitis, as shown in vivo by the beneficial effects of scavenger treatment and in vitro by the potential of free radicals to induce acinar cell damage. However, it is still unclear whether oxygen free radicals (OFR) act only as mediators of tissue damage or represent the initiating event in acute pancreatitis in vivo as well. In the present study the authors aimed to address this issue in an experimental set-up.

Materials and methods: Two hundred male Wistar rats were randomly assigned to one of the following experimental groups. In two groups, acute necrotizing pancreatitis was induced by retrograde intraductal infusion of 3% sodium taurocholate. Through the abdominal aorta, a catheter was advanced to the origin of the celiac artery for continuous regional arterial (CRA) pretreatment with isotonic saline (NP-S group) or superoxide dismutase/catalase (NP-SOD/CAT group). In another group, oxidative stress was generated by CRA administration of xanthine oxidase and intravenous administration of hypoxanthine (HX/XOD group). Sham-operated rats received isotonic saline both arterially and intraductally. After observation periods of 5 and 30 minutes and 3 and 6 hours, the pancreas was removed for light microscopy and determination of reduced glutathione (GSH), oxidized glutathione (GSSG), conjugated dienes (CD), and malondialdehyde as a marker for OFR-induced lipid peroxidation as well as myeloperoxidase as a parameter for polymorphonuclear leukocyte accumulation.

Results: A significant decrease of GSH was paralleled by an increased ratio of GSSG per total glutathione and elevated CD levels after 5 minutes in the NP-S group versus the sham-operated group. Thereafter, the percentage of GSSG and GSH returned to normal levels until the 6-hour time point. After a temporary decrease after 30 minutes, CD levels increased again at 3 hours and were significantly higher at 6 hours in contrast to sham-operated rats. Myeloperoxidase levels were significantly elevated at 3 and 6 hours after pancreatitis induction. In contrast to NP-S rats, treatment with SOD/CAT significantly attenuated the changes in glutathione metabolism within the first 30 minutes and the increase of CDs after 6 hours. HX/XOD administration lead to changes in levels of GSH, GSSG, and CDs at 5 minutes as well as to increased myeloperoxidase levels at 3 hours; these changes were similar to those observed in NP-S rats. Acinar cell damage including necrosis was present after 5 minutes in both NP groups, but did not develop in HX/XOD rats. In addition, serum amylase and lipase levels did not increase in the latter group. SOD/CAT treatment significantly attenuated acinar cell damage and inflammatory infiltrate compared with NP-S animals during the later time intervals.

Conclusion: OFRs are important mediators of tissue damage. However, extracellular OFR generation alone does not induce the typical enzymatic and morphologic changes of acute pancreatitis. Factors other than OFRs must be involved for triggering acute pancreatitis in vivo.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Free Radical Scavengers / pharmacology
  • Free Radicals / metabolism
  • Hypoxanthine / pharmacology
  • Inflammation Mediators / physiology*
  • Male
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects
  • Oxidative Stress / physiology
  • Oxygen Consumption / drug effects
  • Oxygen Consumption / physiology*
  • Pancreatitis, Acute Necrotizing / enzymology
  • Pancreatitis, Acute Necrotizing / etiology
  • Pancreatitis, Acute Necrotizing / physiopathology*
  • Random Allocation
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Superoxide Dismutase / pharmacology
  • Xanthine Oxidase / pharmacology


  • Free Radical Scavengers
  • Free Radicals
  • Inflammation Mediators
  • Hypoxanthine
  • Superoxide Dismutase
  • Xanthine Oxidase