Free radicals, antioxidant enzymes, and carcinogenesis

Free Radic Biol Med. 1990;8(6):583-99. doi: 10.1016/0891-5849(90)90156-d.


Free radicals are found to be involved in both initiation and promotion of multistage carcinogenesis. These highly reactive compounds can act as initiators and/or promoters, cause DNA damage, activate procarcinogens, and alter the cellular antioxidant defense system. Antioxidants, the free radical scavengers, however, are shown to be anticarcinogens. They function as the inhibitors at both initiation and promotion/transformation stage of carcinogenesis and protect cells against oxidative damage. Altered antioxidant enzymes were observed during carcinogenesis or in tumors. When compared to their appropriate normal cell counterparts, tumor cells are always low in manganese superoxide dismutase activity, usually low in copper and zinc superoxide dismutase activity and almost always low in catalase activity. Glutathione peroxidase and glutathione reductase activities are highly variable. In contrast, glutathione S-transferase 7-7 is increased in many tumor cells and in chemically induced preneoplastic rat hepatocyte nodules. Increased glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase activity is also found in many tumors. Comprehensive data on free radicals, antioxidant enzymes, and carcinogenesis are reviewed. The role of antioxidant enzymes in carcinogenesis is discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Free Radicals*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Oxidoreductases / pharmacology*
  • Oxygen / pharmacology


  • Free Radicals
  • Oxidoreductases
  • Oxygen