Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic disease affecting up to 3% of the population in most countries. The causes of RA have not been completely elucidated. This paper aims to review the role of reactive oxygen and nitrogen species in the etiopathogenesis of RA. Reactive oxygen species (ROS), such as superoxide radical, hydrogen peroxide, hydroxyl radical and hypochlorous acid, as well as reactive nitrogen species (RNS), such as nitric oxide and peroxynitrite, contribute significantly to tissue injury in RA. Several mechanisms are involved in the generation and action of ROS and RNS. Superoxide radical, hydrogen peroxide and nitric oxide do not directly damage the majority of biological molecules. They are however converted into the highly reactive hydroxyl radical, which reacts with almost all molecules in living cells. The resulting chronic inflammation process can be reduced with antioxidant therapy. To date, scavenging, preventive, and enzyme antioxidants are available. The most important mode is scavenging of the hydroxyl radical and of hypochlorous acid. Another important way is to inhibit production of RNS and ROS by neutrophils, monocytes, and macrophages. The control of inflammation in arthritic patients by natural as well as synthetic antioxidants could become a relevant component of antirheumatic prevention and therapy.
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