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Abstract

Reactive oxygen species (ROS), whether produced endogenously as a consequence of normal cell functions or derived from external sources, pose a constant threat to cells living in an aerobic environment as they can result in severe damage to DNA, protein, and lipids. The importance of oxidative damage to the pathogenesis of many diseases as well as to degenerative processes of aging has becoming increasingly apparent over the past few years. Cells contain a number of antioxidant defenses to minimize fluctuations in ROS, but ROS generation often exceeds the cell's antioxidant capacity, resulting in a condition termed oxidative stress. Host survival depends upon the ability of cells and tissues to adapt to or resist the stress, and repair or remove damaged molecules or cells. Numerous stress response mechanisms have evolved for these purposes, and they are rapidly activated in response to oxidative insults. Some of the pathways are preferentially linked to enhanced survival, while others are more frequently associated with cell death. Still others have been implicated in both extremes depending on the particular circumstances. In this review, we discuss the various signaling pathways known to be activated in response to oxidative stress in mammalian cells, the mechanisms leading to their activation, and their roles in influencing cell survival. These pathways constitute important avenues for therapeutic interventions aimed at limiting oxidative damage or attenuating its sequelae. Published 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.