What is Redox Biology and what role does Oxidative Stress play in it?

Redox Biology refers to the study of biochemical processes involving reduction (gaining electrons) and oxidation (losing electrons). In normal healthy systems there exists a relative state of “redox homeostasis” wherein there is neither and abundance nor a shortage of oxidants or reductants.

Redox Homeostatis

On the other hand, “Oxidative Stress” refers to a specific biochemical condition or status wherein levels of oxidant molecules commonly referred to as free radicals exceeds the level of reductants commonly referred to as antioxidants in a given system.

Oxidative Stress

Left unchecked, elevated levels of pro-oxidants are capable of affecting changes in lipids, proteins and DNA, which can be toxic and lead to disease and/or environmental decline. For this reason, oxidative stress has historically been studied mostly for its negative effects and indeed it has been shown to be involved with heart, liver, lung and neurologic diseases among others. More recently however, it has been discovered that brief and controlled levels of oxidative stress are a fundamental component of many cell signaling processes including many involved in regulating expression and function of key proteins. This relatively new finding is taking the study of oxidative stress in new directions, wherein researchers believe that oxidative regulation of protein function and the genetic mechanisms of oxidative stress response may hold the keys to ameliorating the effects of aging and disease.

How can researchers detect and quantify oxidative stress?

Researchers often look at oxidative modifications and damage to various biological substrates as indicators of oxidative stress. The three major areas of interest are lipids, proteins and DNA. In each of these areas, investigators can look at multiple analytes often referred to as “biomarkers” to establish the presence and extent of oxidative stress. The target substrate and best biomarker for a given project is typically dependent on the available sample type, species and level of stress.

Researchers also have the option of looking at various endogenously expressed antioxidants which can be elevated or depleted depending on the type and level of stressor on a given system.

Since inflammation in and of itself often induces a state of oxidative stress, investigators may opt to include inflammatory related biomarkers as part of an investigation, especially when inflammation is known to play a role in the disease or model system of interest.

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