Genetic responses to free radicals. Homeostasis and gene control

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2000;899:69-87. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2000.tb06177.x.


Gene regulation mechanisms have evolved allowing cells to finetune the level of "endogenous" oxidative stress and to cope with increased free radicals from external sources. Levels of H2O2 are tightly controlled in E. coli by OxyR, which is activated by H2O2 to increase scavenging activities and limit H2O2 generation by the respiratory chain. Sub-micromolar levels of H2O2 are maintained in mammalian tissues, though the regulatory systems that govern this control are unknown. Excess superoxide triggers the soxRS system in E. coli, which is controlled by the oxidant-sensitive iron-sulfur centers of the SoxR protein. Nitric oxide activates SoxR by a different modification of the iron-sulfur centers. The soxRS regulon mobilizes diverse functions to scavenge free radicals and repair oxidative damage in macromolecules, and other mechanisms that exclude many environmental agents from the cell. Mammalian cells also sense and respond to sub-toxic levels of nitric oxide, activating expression of heme oxygenase 1 through stabilization of its mRNA. These inductions give rise to adaptive resistance to nitric oxide in neuronal and other cell types.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism
  • Free Radicals
  • Homeostasis / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen Peroxide / metabolism
  • Nitric Oxide / physiology
  • Salmonella typhimurium / metabolism


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Free Radicals
  • Nitric Oxide
  • Hydrogen Peroxide