Analysis of cellular responses to free radicals: focus on exercise and skeletal muscle

Proc Nutr Soc. 1999 Nov;58(4):1025-33. doi: 10.1017/s0029665199001342.


Muscular exercise results in an increased production of radicals and other forms of reactive oxygen species (ROS). Recent evidence suggests that radicals and other ROS are an underlying aetiology in exercise-induced disturbances in muscle redox status. These exercise-induced redox disturbances in skeletal muscle are postulated to contribute to both muscle fatigue and/or exercise-induced muscle injury. To defend against ROS, muscle cells contain complex cellular defence mechanisms to reduce the risk of oxidative injury. Two major classes (enzymic and non-enzymic) of endogenous protective mechanisms work together to reduce the harmful effects of oxidants in the cell. Primary antioxidant enzymes include superoxide dismutase (EC; SOD), GSH peroxidase (EC; GPX), and catalase (EC; these enzymes are responsible for removing superoxide radicals, H2O2 and organic hydroperoxides, and H2O2 respectively. Important non-enzymic antioxidants include vitamins E and C, beta-carotene, GSH and ubiquinones. Vitamin E, beta-carotene and ubiquinone are located in lipid regions of the cell, whereas GSH and vitamin C are in aqueous compartments of the cell. Regular endurance training promotes an increase in both total SOD and GPX activity in actively-recruited skeletal muscles. High-intensity exercise training has been shown to be generally superior to low-intensity exercise in the upregulation of muscle SOD and GPX activities. Also, training-induced upregulation of antioxidant enzymes is limited to highly-oxidative skeletal muscles. The effects of endurance training on non-enzymic antioxidants remain a relatively uninvestigated area.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antioxidants / metabolism
  • Catalase / metabolism
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Free Radicals
  • Glutathione Peroxidase / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen Peroxide / metabolism
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism*
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism*
  • Superoxide Dismutase / metabolism


  • Antioxidants
  • Free Radicals
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Hydrogen Peroxide
  • Catalase
  • Glutathione Peroxidase
  • Superoxide Dismutase