Skip to main page content
Access keys NCBI Homepage MyNCBI Homepage Main Content Main Navigation
Review
, 39 (5-6), 499-550

The Oxygen Paradox, the French Paradox, and Age-Related Diseases

Affiliations
Review

The Oxygen Paradox, the French Paradox, and Age-Related Diseases

Joanna M S Davies et al. Geroscience.

Abstract

A paradox is a seemingly absurd or impossible concept, proposition, or theory that is often difficult to understand or explain, sometimes apparently self-contradictory, and yet ultimately correct or true. How is it possible, for example, that oxygen "a toxic environmental poison" could be also indispensable for life (Beckman and Ames Physiol Rev 78(2):547-81, 1998; Stadtman and Berlett Chem Res Toxicol 10(5):485-94, 1997)?: the so-called Oxygen Paradox (Davies and Ursini 1995; Davies Biochem Soc Symp 61:1-31, 1995). How can French people apparently disregard the rule that high dietary intakes of cholesterol and saturated fats (e.g., cheese and paté) will result in an early death from cardiovascular diseases (Renaud and de Lorgeril Lancet 339(8808):1523-6, 1992; Catalgol et al. Front Pharmacol 3:141, 2012; Eisenberg et al. Nat Med 22(12):1428-1438, 2016)?: the so-called, French Paradox. Doubtless, the truth is not a duality and epistemological bias probably generates apparently self-contradictory conclusions. Perhaps nowhere in biology are there so many apparently contradictory views, and even experimental results, affecting human physiology and pathology as in the fields of free radicals and oxidative stress, antioxidants, foods and drinks, and dietary recommendations; this is particularly true when issues such as disease-susceptibility or avoidance, "healthspan," "lifespan," and ageing are involved. Consider, for example, the apparently paradoxical observation that treatment with low doses of a substance that is toxic at high concentrations may actually induce transient adaptations that protect against a subsequent exposure to the same (or similar) toxin. This particular paradox is now mechanistically explained as "Adaptive Homeostasis" (Davies Mol Asp Med 49:1-7, 2016; Pomatto et al. 2017a; Lomeli et al. Clin Sci (Lond) 131(21):2573-2599, 2017; Pomatto and Davies 2017); the non-damaging process by which an apparent toxicant can activate biological signal transduction pathways to increase expression of protective genes, by mechanisms that are completely different from those by which the same agent induces toxicity at high concentrations. In this review, we explore the influences and effects of paradoxes such as the Oxygen Paradox and the French Paradox on the etiology, progression, and outcomes of many of the major human age-related diseases, as well as the basic biological phenomenon of ageing itself.

Keywords: Adaptive Homeostasis; Age-related diseases; Ageing; French Paradox; Healthspan; Oxidative stress; Oxygen Paradox; Proteostasis.

Figures

Fig. 1
Fig. 1
Sources of oxidative stress, cellular defenses, and compromised stress resistance with ageing. Upper (green background) panel—young cells—cells must cope with both internal and external sources of oxidative stress. Extracellular sources include smoke and partial combustion products (of all forms), pollution, radiation, environmental toxicants, and various dietary constituents. One internal source of oxidative stress arises from mitochondrial electron transport and respiration. Electron “leakage” from the electron transport chain to molecular oxygen generates superoxide (O2 ·−) which is either dismutated into hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) via the mitochondrial manganese superoxide (MnSOD) or the cytosolic copper-zinc superoxide (CuZnSOD). Additionally, if the superoxide is not removed and/or an accumulation of hydrogen peroxide (above homeostatic levels) occurs, the likelihood of hydroxyl radical (HO·) generation increases, with consequent protein, lipid, and even DNA damage. To combat these potential sources of damage, mitochondria rely upon detoxification enzymes, such as glutathione peroxidase (GPx) and proteolytic enzymes, such as the mitochondrial Lon protease, which can remove oxidized proteins. Another prominent internal source of oxidative stress are peroxisomes, which can generate O2 ·−, H2O2 (and, thus, HO·) as a consequence of fatty-acid metabolism. Fortunately, the O2 ·− can be dismutated by CuZnSOD. And the H2O2 can be removed by catalase which is in extremely high concentration inside peroxisomes. The endoplasmic reticulum also contributes to cellular levels of reactive oxygen species, due to H2O2 generation from protein folding and the formation of O2 ·− by membrane-bound NADPH oxidase (NOX) enzymes. An additional safety mechanism the cell relies upon is the 20S proteasome. During periods of oxidative stress, the 19S regulatory caps of the 26 proteasome are sequestered away by HSP70 and ECM29, increasing the available pool of ATP-independent 20S proteasomes. These free 20S proteasomes can degrade oxidized proteins, thus preventing their aggregation and cross-linking and providing a pool of (undamaged) amino acids for the synthesis of additional protective enzymes. Overall, a combination of protective cellular mechanisms minimizes damage accumulation and help to maintain cellular homeostasis (depicted by the green background). Thus, in young cells and organisms generally, only a small amount of damage occurs and most of that is repaired. The green balls inside the mitochondria represent small amounts of mildly oxidatively damaged proteins, as do the orange colored balls in the cytoplasm. In both mitochondria and cytoplasm, the yellow star-bursts indicate severely damaged, aggregated and often cross-linked proteins. Lower (light red background) panel—old cells—with age, gradual damage accumulation can lead to less-than-optimal defense systems. As a result, background inflammation and oxidative stress can increase from both external and internal sources (symbolized by the red background). Additionally, the internal generation of O2 ·− and H2O2 may increase, but the enzymatic defenses, such as the mitochondrial Lon protease or superoxide dismutase may decrease in clearance efficiency, further exacerbating damage accumulation. Similarly, the defense enzymes necessary to protect against peroxisome and endoplasmic reticulum O2 ·−and H2O2 generation may decrease in efficiency with age, together leading to a cellular imbalance toward oxidative damage. Finally, the 20S proteasome must deal with more and more oxidized proteins (indicated by a great increase in green and orange balls, and yellow star-bursts compared with the upper panel of young cells), many of which aggregate and cross-link before they can be degraded. This results in proteasome becoming irreversibly bound to ‘clumps’ of damaged proteins that it cannot degrade. Proteasomes bound to such oxidized protein aggregates (sometimes called lipofuscin) become inactive, thus further decreasing clearance of damaged proteins and enabling ever-increasing protein aggregation
Fig. 2
Fig. 2
Adaptive homeostasis and nrf2 dependent stress responses decline with age. During cellular homeostasis in young organisms and tissue, nuclear factor (erythroid-derived 2)-like 2 (Nrf2), the master stress-responsive transcriptional activator, is retained in the cytosol bound to the Keap1-Cul3 complex, which contains a ubiquitin E3 ligase. In the absence of stress in young cells (top left panel) Nrf2 is polyubiquitinylated, tagging it for degradation by the ATP-dependent 26S Proteasome, and preventing Nrf2 translocation into the nucleus. Concurrently, as the Nrf2 protein undergoes rapid turnover, the nrf2 gene is constantly transcribed and translated, and de novo Nrf2 is bound to Keap1-Cul3 complexes, enabling cells to have a constant supply of Nrf2. At the same time, cells retain sizeable pools of both 20S and 26S forms of the Proteasome for (different forms of) protein clearance. During periods of oxidative stress in young cells (top right panel), Nrf2 is released from the Keap1-Cul3 complex and phosphorylated, and then translocated into the nucleus. Once in the nucleus, Nrf2 binds to the antioxidant response element (ARE), also called the electrophile response element (EpRE), leading to the transcriptional upregulation of stress responsive enzymes, including the 20S Proteasome. With age, however (bottom left panel), the ability to mitigate damage declines, resulting in an overall increase in baseline inflammation (symbolized by the pink background). In addition, the pool of available Proteasomes (both 20S and 26S) is diminished, as a certain percentage become inactive after binding to indigestible protein aggregates. The inability to clear away all cellular damage promotes the accumulation of protein aggregates, thus further diminishing the available pool of Proteasome. During periods of acute stress in aged cells (indicated by the darker pink background in the bottom right panel), cellular limitations of the stress-response system become evident, as binding of Nrf2 to ARE/EpRE sequences diminishes. Decreased binding efficiency of Nrf2 to ARE/EpRE sequences may be due to Nrf2 competitors such as c-Myc and Bach1. The net result is significantly decreased ability to rapidly upregulate target stress-responsive genes, further promoting protein aggregation, diminished proteostasis, and ineffective adaptive homeostasis
Fig. 3
Fig. 3
Dual effects of antioxidant supplementation in cancer initiation and development. A combination of preclinical and clinical data provide support for the concept that intervention with nutritional antioxidants might be beneficial at early stages of cancer, but harmful in advanced stages. Early stages of cancer are associated with a decrease in antioxidant response contributing to increased reactive oxygen species (ROS) and consequent oxidative damage with malignant transformation. In this situation, supplementation with oral antioxidants might impede the pro-cancerous oxidant actions. During the progression of cancer, malignant cells enhance their metabolic activity to meet their increasing energetic needs, resulting in a higher generation of ROS. To subsist in such condition, cancerous cells activate signaling pathways to increase the intracellular pool of antioxidant systems and protect themselves against excessive oxidative damage. Consequently, in late stages of cancer, supplementation with antioxidants could actually strengthen tumor protection and help malignant growths avoid cell death
Fig. 4
Fig. 4
Changes in metabolism involving the corticostriatal pathway lead to improved circuit specific changes. The left panel highlights some of the features of the corticostriatal circuit in sedentary animals when synaptic activity is low. Glucose serves as the primary energy substrate in neurons catabolized to pyruvate by glycolysis and shuttled into mitochondria to the TCA cycle and ETC for oxidative phosphorylation. Mitochondria (small checkered ovals) generate ATP via oxidative phosphorylation. Expression of regulatory factors such as HIF is attenuated under normoxia. The right panel highlights changes in the corticostriatal circuit with exercise. Neuronal activation leads to significant metabolic changes at the synapse including reduced glucose and depletion of oxygen. Activation of astrocytes leads to an increase in aerobic glycolysis elevating levels of lactate from glucose substrates. Lactate is transported to neurons via the astrocyte neuron lactate shuttle (ANLS) for conversion to pyruvate providing an alternative substrate source for mitochondria energetics. Astrocytes located near synapses may have a unique function in neuroplasticity in that they can detect increased activity through changes in potassium release, glutamate neurotransmission, increased oxidative stress through ROS, and depletion of oxygen and glucose. It has yet to be established how these mechanisms may or may not differ from those astrocytes metabolically associated with neuron cell bodies for example. Changes in blood flow are both acute due to dilation by nitric oxide and prostaglandins and chronic due to increased expression of factors such as HIF-1α dependent VEGF. Increased blood flow and peripheral effects of exercise elevate blood glucose and lactate levels that can be transported to astrocytes and neurons via transporters including MCTs and GluTs
Fig. 5
Fig. 5
Paradoxical relationships in the oxygen paradox and age-related, organ-based diseases. The figure points out just some of the paradoxical relationships between substances (free radicals, antioxidants) or gene products (RCAN1, HDL), oxygen itself, sunlight, fatty foods, hypoxia and reperfusion, etc. at low versus high concentrations, doses, or exposures that have been discussed in this review, and common age-related diseases of major organs. Please note that space limitations preclude a truly exhaustive listing or pictography

Similar articles

See all similar articles

Cited by 14 articles

See all "Cited by" articles

References

    1. Ahmed U, et al. Protein oxidation, nitration and glycation biomarkers for early-stage diagnosis of osteoarthritis of the knee and typing and progression of arthritic disease. Arthritis Res Ther. 2016;18(1):250. doi: 10.1186/s13075-016-1154-3. - DOI - PMC - PubMed
    1. Alam ZI, et al. A generalised increase in protein carbonyls in the brain in Parkinson’s but not incidental Lewy body disease. J Neurochem. 1997;69(3):1326–1329. doi: 10.1046/j.1471-4159.1997.69031326.x. - DOI - PubMed
    1. Alam ZI, et al. Oxidative DNA damage in the parkinsonian brain: an apparent selective increase in 8-hydroxyguanine levels in substantia nigra. J Neurochem. 1997;69(3):1196–1203. doi: 10.1046/j.1471-4159.1997.69031196.x. - DOI - PubMed
    1. Alberti KGM, Zimmet P, Shaw J. The metabolic syndrome—a new worldwide definition. Lancet. 2005;366(9491):1059–1062. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(05)67402-8. - DOI - PubMed
    1. Alcalay RN, et al. The association between Mediterranean diet adherence and Parkinson’s disease. Mov Disord. 2012;27(6):771–774. doi: 10.1002/mds.24918. - DOI - PMC - PubMed

Publication types

Feedback