Superoxide anion: oncogenic reactive oxygen species?

Int J Biochem Cell Biol. 2007;39(7-8):1297-304. doi: 10.1016/j.biocel.2007.04.007. Epub 2007 Apr 21.


Recent evidence linking intracellular reactive oxygen species to cell survival and/or proliferation signals has resulted in a paradigm shift from the age-old dogma implicating reactive oxygen species exclusively in cell damage and death. It is now accepted that reactive oxygen species play important roles in normal physiological states and that depending on the species involved the effect could be highly varied. In this regard, the effects of the two major reactive oxygen species, superoxide and hydrogen peroxide have been extensively studied. During normal cell growth a tight balance between the two species is kept under check by the cells' anti-oxidant defense systems. Deficiency or defect in this defense armory is invariably associated with neoplasia, thus rendering the intracellular redox status in a state of imbalance and generating a "pro-oxidant" milieu. A variety of model systems have underscored the relationship between a pro-oxidant state and cancer promotion and progression. In this review, we present evidence to support the hypothesis that the effect of intracellular reactive oxygen species on oncogenesis is dependent on the ratio of intracellular superoxide to hydrogen peroxide in that a predominant increase in superoxide supports cell survival and promotes oncogenesis whereas a tilt in favor of hydrogen peroxide prevents carcinogenesis by facilitating cell death signaling.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen Peroxide / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Superoxides / metabolism*


  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Superoxides
  • Hydrogen Peroxide