Reactive oxygen species as intracellular messengers during cell growth and differentiation

Cell Physiol Biochem. 2001;11(4):173-86. doi: 10.1159/000047804.


Reactive oxygen species (ROS) are generated following ligand-receptor interactions and function as specific second messengers in signaling cascades involved in cell proliferation and differentiation. Although ROS are generated intracellularly by several sources, including mitochondria, the primary sources of ROS involved in receptor-mediated signaling cascades are plasma membrane oxidases, preferentially NADPH oxidases, with a rapid kinetics of activation and inactivation. This allows a tight up- and downregulation of intracellular ROS levels within the short time required for the transduction of signals from the plasma membrane to the cell nucleus. The mode of action of ROS may involve direct interaction with specific receptors, and/or redox-activation of members of signaling pathways such as protein kinases, protein phosphatases, and transcription factors. Furthermore, ROS act in concert with intracellular Ca(2+) in signaling pathways which regulate the balance of cell proliferation versus cell cycle arrest and cell death. The delicate intracellular interplay between oxidizing and reducing equivalents allows ROS to function as second messengers in the control of cell proliferation and differentiation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calcium Signaling
  • Cell Differentiation*
  • Cell Division*
  • Humans
  • NADPH Oxidases / metabolism
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism*
  • Second Messenger Systems*
  • Signal Transduction*
  • Transcription, Genetic


  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • NADPH Oxidases