Increasingly complex behavior of free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) are noted within biological systems. Classically free radicals and ROS were considered injurious, however current mechanisms describe both protective and deleterious effects. A burst of ROS has been well described with the first moments of reperfusion and is associated with injury. However ROS can also be protective as signal preconditioning protection and induce stress responses that lead to survival. ROS generation is appreciated to occur during ischemia despite the low oxygen tension, from a likely mitochondria source, and ROS-induced ROS release may amplify its signal. The burst of ROS seen during reperfusion may originate from a different cellular source than during ischemia and is not yet fully identified. ROS and cellular redox conditions regulate a large number of vital pathways (energy metabolism, survival/stress responses, apoptosis, inflammatory response, oxygen sensing, etc). While cellular systems may demonstrate reperfusion injury, whole organ and animal models continue to report contradictory results on reperfusion injury and the role of antioxidants as a therapy. Collectively, these data may offer insight into why clinical trials of antioxidants have had such mixed and mostly negative results. Future antioxidant therapies are likely to be effective but they must become: more specific for site of action, not have deleterious effects on other signaling pathways, be targeted to a specific reactive oxygen species or cellular compartment, and be "time sensitive" so they deliver the correct therapy at precisely the correct time in ischemia and reperfusion. © 2003 European Society of Cardiology. Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
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