Oxidative mechanisms in the toxicity of metal ions

Free Radic Biol Med. 1995 Feb;18(2):321-36. doi: 10.1016/0891-5849(94)00159-h.


The role of reactive oxygen species, with the subsequent oxidative deterioration of biological macromolecules in the toxicities associated with transition metal ions, is reviewed. Recent studies have shown that metals, including iron, copper, chromium, and vanadium undergo redox cycling, while cadmium, mercury, and nickel, as well as lead, deplete glutathione and protein-bound sulfhydryl groups, resulting in the production of reactive oxygen species as superoxide ion, hydrogen peroxide, and hydroxyl radical. As a consequence, enhanced lipid peroxidation. DNA damage, and altered calcium and sulfhydryl homeostasis occur. Fenton-like reactions may be commonly associated with most membranous fractions including mitochondria, microsomes, and peroxisomes. Phagocytic cells may be another important source of reactive oxygen species in response to metal ions. Furthermore, various studies have suggested that the ability to generate reactive oxygen species by redox cycling quinones and related compounds may require metal ions. Recent studies have suggested that metal ions may enhance the production of tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF alpha) and activate protein kinase C, as well as induce the production of stress proteins. Thus, some mechanisms associated with the toxicities of metal ions are very similar to the effects produced by many organic xenobiotics. Specific differences in the toxicities of metal ions may be related to differences in solubilities, absorbability, transport, chemical reactivity, and the complexes that are formed within the body. This review summarizes current studies that have been conducted with transition metal ions as well as lead, regarding the production of reactive oxygen species and oxidative tissue damage.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Metals / toxicity*
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Oxidative Stress*
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism


  • Metals
  • Reactive Oxygen Species