Reactive oxygen species, antioxidants, and the mammalian thioredoxin system

Free Radic Biol Med. 2001 Dec 1;31(11):1287-312. doi: 10.1016/s0891-5849(01)00724-9.


Reactive oxygen species (ROS) are known mediators of intracellular signaling cascades. Excessive production of ROS may, however, lead to oxidative stress, loss of cell function, and ultimately apoptosis or necrosis. A balance between oxidant and antioxidant intracellular systems is hence vital for cell function, regulation, and adaptation to diverse growth conditions. Thioredoxin reductase (TrxR) in conjunction with thioredoxin (Trx) is a ubiquitous oxidoreductase system with antioxidant and redox regulatory roles. In mammals, extracellular forms of Trx also have cytokine-like effects. Mammalian TrxR has a highly reactive active site selenocysteine residue resulting in a profound reductive capacity, reducing several substrates in addition to Trx. Due to the reactivity of TrxR, the enzyme is inhibited by many clinically used electrophilic compounds including nitrosoureas, aurothioglucose, platinum compounds, and retinoic acid derivatives. The properties of TrxR in combination with the functions of Trx position this system at the core of cellular thiol redox control and antioxidant defense. In this review, we focus on the reactions of the Trx system with ROS molecules and different cellular antioxidant enzymes. We summarize the TrxR-catalyzed regeneration of several antioxidant compounds, including ascorbic acid (vitamin C), selenium-containing substances, lipoic acid, and ubiquinone (Q10). We also discuss the general cellular effects of TrxR inhibition. Dinitrohalobenzenes constitute a unique class of immunostimulatory TrxR inhibitors and we consider the immunomodulatory effects of dinitrohalobenzene compounds in view of their reactions with the Trx system.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antioxidants* / metabolism
  • Dinitrochlorobenzene / pharmacology
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Humans
  • Oxidants
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Reactive Oxygen Species* / metabolism
  • Substrate Specificity
  • Thioredoxin-Disulfide Reductase / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Thioredoxin-Disulfide Reductase / metabolism
  • Thioredoxins* / metabolism


  • Antioxidants
  • Dinitrochlorobenzene
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Oxidants
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Thioredoxins
  • Thioredoxin-Disulfide Reductase