Radical Stress Is More Cytotoxic in the Nucleus than in Other Organelles

Int J Mol Sci. 2019 Aug 25;20(17):4147. doi: 10.3390/ijms20174147.


Cells are exposed to reactive oxygen species (ROS) as a by-product of mitochondrial metabolism, especially under hypoxia. ROS are also enzymatically generated at the plasma membrane during inflammation. Radicals cause cellular damage leading to cell death, as they react indiscriminately with surrounding lipids, proteins, and nucleotides. However, ROS are also important for many physiological processes, including signaling, pathogen killing and chemotaxis. The sensitivity of cells to ROS therefore likely depends on the subcellular location of ROS production, but how this affects cell viability is poorly understood. As ROS generation consumes oxygen, and hypoxia-mediated signaling upregulates expression of antioxidant transcription factor Nrf2, it is difficult to discern hypoxic from radical stress. In this study, we developed an optogenetic toolbox for organelle-specific generation of ROS using the photosensitizer protein SuperNova which produces superoxide anion upon excitation with 590 nm light. We fused SuperNova to organelle specific localization signals to induce ROS with high precision. Selective ROS production did not affect cell viability in most organelles except for the nucleus. SuperNova is a promising tool to induce locally targeted ROS production, opening up new possibilities to investigate processes and organelles that are affected by localized ROS production.

Keywords: DNA damage; optogenetics; oxidative stress; reactive oxygen species.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers
  • COS Cells
  • Cell Death
  • Cell Nucleus / genetics
  • Cell Nucleus / metabolism*
  • Chlorocebus aethiops
  • DNA Damage
  • Free Radicals / metabolism*
  • Organelles / metabolism*
  • Oxidative Stress*
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism


  • Biomarkers
  • Free Radicals
  • Reactive Oxygen Species