The specificity of neuroprotection by antioxidants

J Biomed Sci. 2009 Nov 5;16(1):98. doi: 10.1186/1423-0127-16-98.


Background: Reactive oxygen species (ROS) play an important role in aging and age-related diseases such as Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease. Much of the ROS production under conditions of toxic stress is from mitochondria, and multiple antioxidants prevent ROS accumulation. The aim of this study is to examine the specificity of the interaction between the antioxidants and ROS production in stressed cells.

Methods: Using fluorescent dyes for ROS detection and mitochondrial inhibitors of known specificities, we studied ROS production under three conditions where ROS are produced by mitochondria: oxidative glutamate toxicity, state IV respiration induced by oligomycin, and tumor necrosis factor-induced cell death.

Results: We demonstrated that there are at least four mitochondrial ROS-generating sites in cells, including the flavin mononucleotide (FMN) group of complex I and the three ubiquinone-binding sites in complexes I, II and III. ROS production from these sites is modulated in an insult-specific manner and the sites are differentially accessible to common antioxidants.

Conclusion: The inhibition of ROS accumulation by different antioxidants is specific to the site of ROS generation as well as the antioxidant. This information should be useful for devising new interventions to delay aging or treat ROS-related diseases.

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Antioxidants / chemistry
  • Antioxidants / metabolism*
  • Cell Survival
  • Fluorescent Dyes / chemistry
  • Fluorescent Dyes / pharmacology
  • Glutamic Acid / chemistry
  • Membrane Potentials
  • Mice
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence / methods
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Neuroprotective Agents / pharmacology*
  • Oxygen / chemistry
  • Parkinson Disease / metabolism
  • Phosphorylation
  • Reactive Oxygen Species*


  • Antioxidants
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Neuroprotective Agents
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Glutamic Acid
  • Oxygen