Cold defence responses: the role of oxidative stress

Front Biosci (Schol Ed). 2011 Jan 1;3:416-27. doi: 10.2741/s161.


Low temperatures provoke increased production of heat accompanied by increased respiration, oxygen consumption and the production of partially reduced oxygen species called ROS. ROS induce different forms of cellular oxidative damage, disturb the redox state and can change the activity of several metabolic enzymes. Organisms have developed a functionally connected set of anti-oxidant enzymes and low molecular mass compounds (together termed the ADS) that metabolise primary ROS. If ROS production within cells overwhelms the ADS, oxidative damage arises and oxidative stress can occur. Short-term cold exposure in endotherms leads to oxidative stress. As cold exposure persists organisms develop adaptive changes toward reducing ROS production and increasing the ADS. In contrast, heterotherms and ectotherms as a normal part of their over-wintering strategy slow down metabolism, oxygen consumption and subsequently cause ROS production. Increased baseline activity of key anti-oxidant enzymes as well as 'secondary' enzymatic defence and/or glutathione levels in preparation for a putative oxidative stressful situation arising from tissue re-oxygenation seems to be the preferred evolutionary adaptation of such animals exposed to low environmental temperatures.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acclimatization*
  • Cold Temperature*
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological*
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Oxidative Stress / physiology*
  • Oxygen Consumption / physiology*
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism*
  • Thermogenesis / physiology*


  • Reactive Oxygen Species