FEBS letters

Electron paramagnetic resonance evidence that cellular oxygen toxicity is caused by the generation of superoxide and hydroxyl free radicals.

PMID 2547649


Cells require molecular oxygen for the generation of energy through mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation; however, high concentrations of oxygen are toxic and can cause cell death. A number of different mechanisms have been proposed to cause cellular oxygen toxicity. One hypothesis is that reactive oxygen free radicals may be generated; however free radical generation in hyperoxic cells has never been directly measured and the mechanism of this radical generation is unknown. In order to determine if cellular oxygen toxicity is free radical mediated, we applied electron paramagnetic resonance, EPR, spectroscopy using the spin trap 5,5'-dimethyl-1-pyrroline-N-oxide, DMPO, to measure free radical generation in hyperoxic pulmonary endothelial cells. Cells in air did not give rise to any detectable signal. However, cells exposed to 100% O2 for 30 min exhibited a prominent signal of trapped hydroxyl radical, DMPO-OH, while cell free buffer did not give rise to any detectable radical generation. This cellular radical generation was demonstrated to be derived from the superoxide radical since the observed signal was totally quenched by superoxide dismutase, but not by equal concentrations of the denatured enzyme. It was confirmed that the hydroxyl radical was generated since in the presence of ethanol the CH3 CH(OH) radical was formed. Loss of cell viability as measured by uptake of trypan blue dye was observed paralleling the measured free radical generation. Thus, superoxide and hydroxyl radicals are generated in hyperoxic pulmonary endothelial cells and this appears to be an important mechanism of cellular oxygen toxicity.