Hydrogen peroxide as a cell-survival signaling molecule

Antioxid Redox Signal. 2009 Nov;11(11):2655-71. doi: 10.1089/ars.2009.2728.


Reactive oxygen species (ROS) were seen as destructive molecules, but recently, they have been shown also to act as second messengers in varying intracellular signaling pathways. This review concentrates on hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), as it is a more stable ROS, and delineates its role as a survival molecule. In the first part, the production of H2O2 through the NADPH oxidase (Nox) family is investigated. Through careful examination of Nox proteins and their regulation, it is determined how they respond to stress and how this can be prosurvival rather than prodeath. The pathways on which H2O2 acts to enable its prosurvival function are then examined in greater detail. The main survival pathways are kinase driven, and oxidation of cysteines in the active sites of various phosphatases can thus regulate those survival pathways. Regulation of transcription factors such as p53, NF-kappaB, and AP-1 also are reviewed. Finally, prodeath proteins such as caspases could be directly inhibited through their cysteine residues. A better understanding of the prosurvival role of H2O2 in cells, from the why and how it is generated to the various molecules it can affect, will allow more precise targeting of therapeutics to this pathway.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Survival / genetics
  • Cell Survival / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen Peroxide / metabolism*
  • Models, Biological
  • NADPH Oxidases / chemistry
  • NADPH Oxidases / genetics
  • NADPH Oxidases / metabolism
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Signal Transduction / genetics
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*


  • Hydrogen Peroxide
  • NADPH Oxidases