Oxidative stress hypothesis in Alzheimer's disease

Free Radic Biol Med. 1997;23(1):134-47. doi: 10.1016/s0891-5849(96)00629-6.


The major hurdle in understanding Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a lack of knowledge about the etiology and pathogenesis of selective neuron death. In recent years, considerable data have accrued indicating that the brain in AD is under increased oxidative stress and this may have a role in the pathogenesis of neuron degeneration and death in this disorder. The direct evidence supporting increased oxidative stress in AD is: (1) increased brain Fe, Al, and Hg in AD, capable of stimulating free radical generation; (2) increased lipid peroxidation and decreased polyunsaturated fatty acids in the AD brain, and increased 4-hydroxynonenal, an aldehyde product of lipid peroxidation in AD ventricular fluid; (3) increased protein and DNA oxidation in the AD brain; (4) diminished energy metabolism and decreased cytochrome c oxidase in the brain in AD; (5) advanced glycation end products (AGE), malondialdehyde, carbonyls, peroxynitrite, heme oxygenase-1 and SOD-1 in neurofibrillary tangles and AGE, heme oxygenase-1, SOD-1 in senile plaques; and (6) studies showing that amyloid beta peptide is capable of generating free radicals. Supporting indirect evidence comes from a variety of in vitro studies showing that free radicals are capable of mediating neuron degeneration and death. Overall, these studies indicate that free radicals are possibly involved in the pathogenesis of neuron death in AD. Because tissue injury itself can induce reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation, it is not known whether this is a primary or secondary event. Even if free radical generation is secondary to other initiating causes, they are deleterious and part of a cascade of events that can lead to neuron death, suggesting that therapeutic efforts aimed at removal of ROS or prevention of their formation may be beneficial in AD.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease / drug therapy
  • Alzheimer Disease / metabolism*
  • Alzheimer Disease / pathology
  • Amyloid beta-Peptides / metabolism
  • Antioxidants / metabolism
  • Cell Death
  • DNA Damage
  • Free Radicals
  • Humans
  • Lipid Peroxidation
  • Neurofibrillary Tangles / metabolism
  • Neurofibrillary Tangles / pathology
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neurons / pathology
  • Oxidative Stress*


  • Amyloid beta-Peptides
  • Antioxidants
  • Free Radicals