The tandem of free radicals and methylglyoxal

Chem Biol Interact. 2008 Feb 15;171(3):251-71. doi: 10.1016/j.cbi.2007.11.009. Epub 2007 Nov 24.


Methylglyoxal is an alpha-oxoaldehyde inevitably produced from triose-phosphate intermediates of phosphorylating glycolysis, and also from amino acids and acetone. Recently, the attention has been focused on the involvement of free radicals in methylglyoxal toxicity. In this review, a summary of the relationship between methylglyoxal metabolism and free radical production is presented, extending discussion from the possible metabolic routes to the toxicological events by reviewing the role of free radicals in both generation and degradation of this 1,2-dicarbonyl as well as in the modification of biological macromolecules, and focusing on the action of methylglyoxal upon cellular glutathione content. Methylglyoxal-provoked free radical generation involving reactive oxygen species (ROS), reactive nitrogen species (RNS) as well as organic radicals like methylglyoxal radial or crosslinked protein radical as potential risk factors to tissue damage propagation, is thoroughly discussed. Special attention is paid to the potential therapeutic interventions. The paper arrives at the conclusion that a tight junction exists between methylglyoxal toxicity and free radical (particularly ROS) generation, though the toxicity of 1,2-dicarbonyl evolves even under anaerobic conditions, too. The events follow a sequence beginning with carbonyl stress essential for the toxicity, leading to free radical formation and finally ending in either apoptosis or necrosis. Both oxidative and nitrosative stress play important but not indispensable role in the development of methylglyoxal toxicity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • DNA Damage / drug effects
  • Free Radicals / metabolism
  • Free Radicals / toxicity
  • Glutathione / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Pyruvaldehyde / metabolism*
  • Pyruvaldehyde / toxicity
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism


  • Free Radicals
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Pyruvaldehyde
  • Glutathione