Antioxidants in brain tumors: current therapeutic significance and future prospects

Mol Cancer. 2022 Oct 28;21(1):204. doi: 10.1186/s12943-022-01668-9.


Brain cancer is regarded among the deadliest forms of cancer worldwide. The distinct tumor microenvironment and inherent characteristics of brain tumor cells virtually render them resistant to the majority of conventional and advanced therapies. Oxidative stress (OS) is a key disruptor of normal brain homeostasis and is involved in carcinogenesis of different forms of brain cancers. Thus, antioxidants may inhibit tumorigenesis by preventing OS induced by various oncogenic factors. Antioxidants are hypothesized to inhibit cancer initiation by endorsing DNA repair and suppressing cancer progression by creating an energy crisis for preneoplastic cells, resulting in antiproliferative effects. These effects are referred to as chemopreventive effects mediated by an antioxidant mechanism. In addition, antioxidants minimize chemotherapy-induced nonspecific organ toxicity and prolong survival. Antioxidants also support the prooxidant chemistry that demonstrate chemotherapeutic potential, particularly at high or pharmacological doses and trigger OS by promoting free radical production, which is essential for activating cell death pathways. A growing body of evidence also revealed the roles of exogenous antioxidants as adjuvants and their ability to reverse chemoresistance. In this review, we explain the influences of different exogenous and endogenous antioxidants on brain cancers with reference to their chemopreventive and chemotherapeutic roles. The role of antioxidants on metabolic reprogramming and their influence on downstream signaling events induced by tumor suppressor gene mutations are critically discussed. Finally, the review hypothesized that both pro- and antioxidant roles are involved in the anticancer mechanisms of the antioxidant molecules by killing neoplastic cells and inhibiting tumor recurrence followed by conventional cancer treatments. The requirements of pro- and antioxidant effects of exogenous antioxidants in brain tumor treatment under different conditions are critically discussed along with the reasons behind the conflicting outcomes in different reports. Finally, we also mention the influencing factors that regulate the pharmacology of the exogenous antioxidants in brain cancer treatment. In conclusion, to achieve consistent clinical outcomes with antioxidant treatments in brain cancers, rigorous mechanistic studies are required with respect to the types, forms, and stages of brain tumors. The concomitant treatment regimens also need adequate consideration.

Keywords: Antioxidant; Brain tumor; Chemopreventive role; Chemotherapy; Dietary antioxidants; Gene mutation; Glioblastoma; Glioma; Metabolic reprogramming; Oxidative stress.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antioxidants* / pharmacology
  • Antioxidants* / therapeutic use
  • Brain Neoplasms* / drug therapy
  • Carcinogenesis
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / drug therapy
  • Oxidative Stress / physiology
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Tumor Microenvironment


  • Antioxidants
  • Reactive Oxygen Species