The conventional model of oxidative DNA damage posits a role for superoxide (O2-) as a reductant for iron, which subsequently generates a hydroxyl radical by transferring the electron to H2O2. The hydroxyl radical then attacks DNA. Indeed, mutants of Escherichia coli that lack superoxide dismutase (SOD) were 10-fold more vulnerable to DNA oxidation by H2O2 than were wild-type cells. Even the pace of DNA damage by endogenous oxidants was great enough that the SOD mutants could not tolerate air if enzymes that repair oxidative DNA lesions were inactive. However, DNA oxidation proceeds in SOD-proficient cells without the involvement of O2-, as evidenced by the failure of SOD overproduction or anaerobiosis to suppress damage by H2O2. Furthermore, the mechanism by which excess O2- causes damage was called into question when the hypersensitivity of SOD mutants to DNA damage persisted for at least 20 min after O2- had been dispelled through the imposition of anaerobiosis. That behavior contradicted the standard model, which requires that O2- be present to rereduce cellular iron during the period of exposure to H2O2. Evidently, DNA oxidation is driven by a reductant other than O2-, which leaves the mechanism of damage promotion by O2- unsettled. One possibility is that, through its well-established ability to leach iron from iron-sulfur clusters, O2- increases the amount of free iron that is available to catalyze hydroxyl radical production. Experiments with iron transport mutants confirmed that increases in free-iron concentration have the effect of accelerating DNA oxidation. Thus, O2- may be genotoxic only in doses that exceed those found in SOD-proficient cells, and in those limited circumstances it may promote DNA damage by increasing the amount of DNA-bound iron.
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