Progress in understanding the molecular oxygen paradox - function of mitochondrial reactive oxygen species in cell signaling

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The molecular oxygen (O2) paradox was coined to describe its essential nature and toxicity. The latter characteristic of O2 is associated with the formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS), which can damage structures vital for cellular function. Mammals are equipped with antioxidant systems to fend off the potentially damaging effects of ROS. However, under certain circumstances antioxidant systems can become overwhelmed leading to oxidative stress and damage. Over the past few decades, it has become evident that ROS, specifically H2O2, are integral signaling molecules complicating the previous logos that oxyradicals were unfortunate by-products of oxygen metabolism that indiscriminately damage cell structures. To avoid its potential toxicity whilst taking advantage of its signaling properties, it is vital for mitochondria to control ROS production and degradation. H2O2 elimination pathways are well characterized in mitochondria. However, less is known about how H2O2 production is controlled. The present review examines the importance of mitochondrial H2O2 in controlling various cellular programs and emerging evidence for how production is regulated. Recently published studies showing how mitochondrial H2O2 can be used as a secondary messenger will be discussed in detail. This will be followed with a description of how mitochondria use S-glutathionylation to control H2O2 production.

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