Cell culture studies have given much valuable information about mechanisms of metabolism and signal transduction and of regulation of gene expression, proliferation, senescence, and death. However, cells in culture may behave differently from cells in vivo in many ways. One of these is that cell culture imposes a state of oxidative stress on cells. I argue that cells that survive and grow in culture might use ROS-dependent signal transduction pathways that rarely or never operate in vivo. A further problem is that cell culture media can catalyse the oxidation of compounds added to them, resulting in apparent cellular effects that are in fact due to oxidation products such as ROS. Such artefacts may have affected many studies on the effects of ascorbate, thiols, flavonoids and other polyphenolic compounds on cells in culture.
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