Reactive oxygen species (ROS), mostly derived from mitochondrial activity, can damage various macromolecules and consequently cause cell death. This ROS activity has been characterized in vitro, and correlative evidence suggests a role in various pathological conditions. In addition to this passive ROS activity, ROS also participate in cell signaling processes, though the relevance of this function in vivo is poorly understood. Throughout development, elevated cell activity is probably accompanied by highly active metabolism and, consequently, the production of large amounts of ROS. To allow proper development, cells must protect themselves from these potentially damaging ROS. However, to what degree ROS could participate as signaling molecules controlling fundamental and developmentally relevant cellular processes such as proliferation, differentiation, and death is an open question. Here we discuss why available data do not yet provide conclusive evidence on the role of ROS in development, and we review recent methods to detect ROS in vivo and genetic strategies that can be exploited specifically to resolve these uncertainties.
Copyright 2010 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.