Some specialized enzymatic systems in the organism produce oxidants, so-called reactive oxygen and nitrogen species (RONS). These RONS represent activated molecules that are able to react with other biomolecules leading to an oxidation of these targets. At higher concentrations these reactive oxygen and nitrogen species are toxic for the organism as they cause oxidative damage to numerous biomolecules leading to loss of enzymatic function, DNA damage with mutations (potentially leading to cancer) and finally contributing to end organ damage (e.g. failing heart, neurodegeneration, liver fibrosis). Usually, the production and break-down (detoxification) of these oxidants is well balanced. Our organism has many enzymatic and non-enzymatic systems that are specialized in the removal of these RONS. Even when oxidative damage to essential biomolecules occurs, cells are able to cope with this threat by the activation of repair systems such as DNA repair enzymes or reductases that remove oxidative modifications in proteins. However, under certain disease conditions (e.g. cardiovascular and neurodegenerative disease, liver and kidney disease as well as metabolic disorders such as diabetes) there is an imbalance between formation of RONS and their detoxification, or likewise the repair capacity for oxidative damage leading to “oxidative stress”, a condition that will lead to end organ damage in the long run. However, the situation is even more complicated as too low levels of RONS (as observed in certain disease) can also impair normal physiological function of cellular processes and contribute to the disease progression.
Unfortunately, these species cannot be targeted in an unspecific and systemic manner (e.g. by oral antioxidant therapy using vitamin C and E) as we have learned from numerous clinical studies. In these clinical trials oral antioxidant therapy with vitamin C or E displayed no health benefit. The reason for this finding could be based on the more recent discoveries that oxidants also play an important role in different cellular signal processes in our organism and influence biological processes that are essential for life. In contrast, if their formation exceeds a certain threshold or takes place in the wrong compartment, oxidative damage accumulates and in the long run will impair important biological functions.
Our Action has dedicated its research to the identification of cellular sources of these oxidants, the mechanism of their formation, the differentiation between physiological and pathophysiological redox processes by these oxidants and finally, the development of specific drugs for fine-tuning the formation of RONS and improving therapy for patients with oxidative stress-related disease.
Here are some links to more detailed information for the interested reader: