The plasma membrane redox system: a candidate source of aging-related oxidative stress

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The plasma membrane redox system (PMRS) is an electron transport chain in the plasma membrane that transfers electrons from either intra- or extracellular donors to extracellular acceptors. Unlike the superoxide-generating NADPH oxidase of phagocytes and the homologous (but much less active) enzymes found in some other cells, the PMRS is still incompletely characterised at the molecular level. Much is known, however, concerning its function and affinity for both physiological and non-physiological substrates. A role for it in aging, the ‘reductive hotspot hypothesis’ (RHH), was proposed in 1998 as part of an explanation for the apparently indefinite survival in vivo of cells that have entirely lost mitochondrial respiratory capacity as a result of the accumulation of mitochondrial mutations. Stimulation of the PMRS might allow the cell to maintain redox homeostasis even while continuing to operate the Krebs cycle, which may be advantageous in many ways. However, the PMRS may, like the mitochondrial respiratory chain, be prone to generate superoxide when thus dysregulated - and in this case superoxide would be generated outside the cell, where antioxidant defences are more limited than inside the cell and where much highly oxidisable material is present. Cascades of peroxidation chain reactions initiated by this process may greatly amplify the oxidative stress on the organism that is caused by rare mitochondrially mutant cells. Since such cells increase in abundance with aging (though remaining rare), this is an economical hypothesis to explain the rise in oxidative stress seen in (and generally believed to contribute substantially to) mammalian aging. In an extension of previously published accounts of RHH, I propose here that the lysosomal toxicity of oxidised cholesterol derivatives (oxysterols) may contribute to the toxicity of mitochondrial mutations by affecting lysosomal function in many cell types in the same way as they have been proposed to do in arterial macrophages.

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