• free radicals;
  • peroxynitrite;
  • superoxide;
  • nitric oxide;
  • oxidants


Macrophages are among the first cellular actors facing the invasion of microorganisms. These cells are able to internalize pathogens and destroy them by means of toxic mediators, many of which are produced enzymatically and have strong oxidizing capacity. Indeed, macrophages count on the NADPH oxidase complex activity, which is triggered during pathogen invasion and leads to the production of superoxide radical inside the phagosome. At the same time, the induction of nitric oxide synthase results in the production of nitric oxide in the cytosol which is able to readily diffuse to the phagocytic vacuole. Superoxide radical and nitric oxide react at diffusion controlled rates with each other inside the phagosome to yield peroxynitrite, a powerful oxidant capable to kill micro-organisms. Peroxynitrite toxicity resides on oxidations and nitrations of biomolecules in the target cell. The central role of peroxynitrite as a key effector molecule in the control of infections has been proven in a wide number of models. However, some microorganisms and virulent strains adapt to survive inside the potentially hostile oxidizing microenvironment of the phagosome by either impeding peroxynitrite formation or rapidly detoxifying it once formed. In this context, the outcome of the infection process is a result of the interplay between the macrophage-derived oxidizing cytotoxins such as peroxynitrite and the antioxidant defense machinery of the invading pathogens. © 2013 BioFactors, 40(2):215–225, 2014