Role of hydrogen peroxide in NF-kappaB activation: from inducer to modulator

Antioxid Redox Signal. 2009 Sep;11(9):2223-43. doi: 10.1089/ars.2009.2601.


Hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) has been implicated in the regulation of the transcription factor NF-kappaB, a key regulator of the inflammatory process and adaptive immunity. However, no consensus exists regarding the regulatory role played by H2O2. We discuss how the experimental methodologies used to expose cells to H2O2 produce inconsistent results that are difficult to compare, and how the steady-state titration with H2O2 emerges as an adequate tool to overcome these problems. The redox targets of H2O2 in the NF-kappaB pathway--from the membrane to the post-translational modifications in both NF-kappaB and histones in the nucleus--are described. We also review how H2O2 acts as a specific regulator at the level of the single gene, and briefly discuss the implications of this regulation for human health in the context of kappaB polymorphisms. In conclusion, after near 30 years of research, H2O2 emerges not as an inducer of NF-kappaB, but as an agent able to modulate the activation of the NF-kappaB pathway by other agents. This modulation is generic at the level of the whole pathway but specific at the level of the single gene. Therefore, H2O2 is a fine-tuning regulator of NF-kappaB-dependent processes, as exemplified by its dual regulation of inflammation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cell Nucleus / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen Peroxide / metabolism*
  • Interleukin-1 / metabolism
  • NF-kappa B / metabolism*
  • Protein Processing, Post-Translational
  • Protein Transport
  • Transcriptional Activation
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / metabolism


  • Interleukin-1
  • NF-kappa B
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • Hydrogen Peroxide