ROS signalling in the biology of cancer

Semin Cell Dev Biol. 2018 Aug;80:50-64. doi: 10.1016/j.semcdb.2017.05.023. Epub 2017 Jun 3.


Increased reactive oxygen species (ROS) production has been detected in various cancers and has been shown to have several roles, for example, they can activate pro-tumourigenic signalling, enhance cell survival and proliferation, and drive DNA damage and genetic instability. Counterintuitively ROS can also promote anti-tumourigenic signalling, initiating oxidative stress-induced tumour cell death. Tumour cells express elevated levels of antioxidant proteins to detoxify elevated ROS levels, establish a redox balance, while maintaining pro-tumourigenic signalling and resistance to apoptosis. Tumour cells have an altered redox balance to that of their normal counterparts and this identifies ROS manipulation as a potential target for cancer therapies. This review discusses the generation and sources of ROS within tumour cells, the regulation of ROS by antioxidant defence systems, as well as the effect of elevated ROS production on their signalling targets in cancer. It also provides an insight into how pro- and anti-tumourigenic ROS signalling pathways could be manipulated in the treatment of cancer.

Keywords: Antioxidants; Cancer; Reactive oxygen species (ROS); Signalling; Therapy.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antioxidants / pharmacology
  • DNA Damage / genetics
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Oxidative Stress / physiology*
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*


  • Antioxidants
  • Reactive Oxygen Species