Vitamin C: update on physiology and pharmacology

Br J Pharmacol. 2009 Aug;157(7):1097-110. doi: 10.1111/j.1476-5381.2009.00282.x. Epub 2009 Jun 5.


Although ascorbic acid is an important water-soluble antioxidant and enzyme cofactor in plants and animals, humans and some other species do not synthesize ascorbate due to the lack of the enzyme catalyzing the final step of the biosynthetic pathway, and for them it has become a vitamin. This review focuses on the role of ascorbate in various hydroxylation reactions and in the redox homeostasis of subcellular compartments including mitochondria and endoplasmic reticulum. Recently discovered functions of ascorbate in nucleic acid and histone dealkylation and proteoglycan deglycanation are also summarized. These new findings might delineate a role for ascorbate in the modulation of both pro- and anti-carcinogenic mechanisms. Recent advances and perspectives in therapeutic applications are also reviewed. On the basis of new and earlier observations, the advantages of the lost ability to synthesize ascorbate are pondered. The increasing knowledge of the functions of ascorbate and of its molecular sites of action can mechanistically substantiate a place for ascorbate in the treatment of various diseases.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anticarcinogenic Agents / pharmacology
  • Anticarcinogenic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Antioxidants / pharmacology
  • Antioxidants / therapeutic use
  • Ascorbic Acid / pharmacology
  • Ascorbic Acid / physiology*
  • Ascorbic Acid / therapeutic use
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic / metabolism
  • Dealkylation
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum / metabolism
  • Glypicans / physiology
  • Histones / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hydroxylation
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Nucleic Acids / metabolism
  • Organelles / metabolism
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Proteoglycans / metabolism
  • Scurvy / drug therapy
  • Vitamins / pharmacology
  • Vitamins / therapeutic use


  • Anticarcinogenic Agents
  • Antioxidants
  • Glypicans
  • Histones
  • Nucleic Acids
  • Proteoglycans
  • Vitamins
  • Ascorbic Acid