Understanding the Biology of Reactive Oxygen Species and Their Link to Cancer: NADPH Oxidases as Novel Pharmacological Targets

Clin Exp Pharmacol Physiol. 2014 Aug;41(8):533-42. doi: 10.1111/1440-1681.12238.


Reactive oxygen species (ROS), the cellular products of myriad physiological processes, have long been understood to lead to cellular damage if produced in excess and to be a causative factor in cancer through the oxidation and nitration of various macromolecules. Reactive oxygen species influence various hallmarks of cancer, such as cellular proliferation and angiogenesis, through the promotion of cell signalling pathways intrinsic to these processes and can also regulate the function of key immune cells, such as macrophages and regulatory T cells, which promote angiogenesis in the tumour environment. Herein we emphasize the family of NADPH oxidase enzymes as the most likely source of ROS, which promote angiogenesis and tumourigenesis through signalling pathways within endothelial, immune and tumour cells. In this review we focus on the pharmacological inhibitors of NADPH oxidases and suggest that, compared with traditional anti-oxidants, they are likely to offer better alternatives for suppression of tumour angiogenesis. Despite the emerging enthusiasm towards the use of NADPH oxidase inhibitors for cancer therapy, this field is still in its infancy; in particular, there is a glaring lack of knowledge of the roles of NADPH oxidases in in vivo animal models and in human cancers. Certainly a clearer understanding of the relevant signalling pathways influenced by NADPH oxidases during angiogenesis in cancer is likely to yield novel therapeutic approaches.

Keywords: NADPH oxidase; Nox; angiogenesis; cancer; cell proliferation; oxidative stress; reactive oxygen species; superoxide.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carcinogenesis / metabolism
  • Humans
  • NADPH Oxidases / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / blood supply
  • Neoplasms / enzymology
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Neovascularization, Pathologic / metabolism
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism*


  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • NADPH Oxidases