Physiological role of reactive oxygen species as promoters of natural defenses

FASEB J. 2017 Sep;31(9):3729-3745. doi: 10.1096/fj.201700170R. Epub 2017 Jun 7.


It has been 60 yr since the discovery of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in biology and the beginning of the scientific community's attempt to understand the impact of the unpaired electron of ROS molecules in biological pathways, which was eventually noted to be toxic. Several studies have shown that the presence of ROS is essential in triggering or acting as a secondary factor for numerous pathologies, including metabolic and genetic diseases; however, it was demonstrated that chronic treatment with antioxidants failed to show efficacy and positive effects in the prevention of diseases or health complications that result from oxidative stress. On the contrary, such treatment has been shown to sometimes even worsen the disease. Because of the permanent presence of ROS in organisms, elaborate mechanisms to adapt with these reactive molecules and to use them without necessarily blocking or preventing their actions have been studied. There is now a large body of evidence that shows that living organisms have conformed to the presence of ROS and, in retrospect, have adapted to the bioactive molecules that are generated by ROS on proteins, lipids, and DNA. In addition, ROS have undergone a shift from being molecules that invoked oxidative damage in regulating signaling pathways that impinged on normal physiological and redox responses. Working in this direction, this review unlocks a new conception about the involvement of cellular oxidants in the maintenance of redox homeostasis in redox regulation of normal physiological functions, and an explanation for its essential role in numerous pathophysiological states is noted.-Roy, J., Galano, J.-M., Durand, T., Le Guennec, J.-Y., Lee, J. C.-Y. Physiological role of reactive oxygen species as promoters of natural defenses.

Keywords: oxidative stress; redox homeostasis; redox pathologies; redox signaling.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antioxidants
  • Homeostasis
  • Oxidants*
  • Oxidative Stress*
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / immunology
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism*


  • Antioxidants
  • Oxidants
  • Reactive Oxygen Species