Mitochondrial reactive oxygen species in cell death signaling

Biochimie. Feb-Mar 2002;84(2-3):131-41. doi: 10.1016/s0300-9084(02)01369-x.


During apoptosis, mitochondrial membrane permeability (MMP) increases and the release into the cytosol of pro-apoptotic factors (procaspases, caspase activators and caspase-independent factors such as apoptosis-inducing factor (AIF)) leads to the apoptotic phenotype. Apart from this pivotal role of mitochondria during the execution phase of apoptosis (documented in other reviews of this issue), it appears that reactive oxygen species (ROS) produced by the mitochondria can be involved in cell death. These toxic compounds are normally detoxified by the cells, failing which oxidative stress occurs. However, ROS are not only dangerous molecules for the cell, but they also display a physiological role, as mediators in signal transduction pathways. ROS participate in early and late steps of the regulation of apoptosis, according to different possible molecular mechanisms. In agreement with this role of ROS in apoptosis signaling, inhibition of apoptosis by anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 and Bcl-x(L) is associated with a protection against ROS and/or a shift of the cellular redox potential to a more reduced state. Furthermore, the fact that active forms of cell death in yeast and plants also involve ROS suggests the existence of an ancestral redox-sensitive death signaling pathway that has been independent of caspases and Bcl-2.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis*
  • Cytochrome c Group / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Mitochondria / physiology*
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / metabolism
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / metabolism
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein


  • Cytochrome c Group
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein