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Environ Health Perspect. 1997 February; 105(Suppl 1): 165–177.
PMCID: PMC1470247
Research Article

The role of oxygen free radicals in occupational and environmental lung diseases.


Oxygen free radicals and their metabolites, collectively described as reactive oxygen species (ROS), have been implicated in the pathogenesis of many diseases. The pulmonary system is particularly vulnerable to ROS-induced injury because of its continuous exposure to toxic pollutants from a wide variety of sources in the ambient air. Additionally, lungs are exposed systemically to ROS generated from xenobiotic compounds and endogenous sources. This review describes the sources of endogenous and exogenous ROS generation in the lung. Special emphasis is given to major sources of ROS in occupational and environmental exposures to asbestos, crystalline silica, coal, chromium, herbicides, bleomycin, and cigarette smoke. ROS-induced lung injury at different target levels may contribute to similar patterns of cell injury and alterations at the molecular level by initiation, propagation, and autocatalytic chain reactions. Intracellular signalling, activation and inactivation of enzymes, stimulation, secretion, and release of proinflammatory cytokines, chemokines, and nuclear factor activation and alterations are also common events. Understanding the interactions of these intricate mechanistic events is important in the prevention and amelioration of lung injury that results from acute and chronic exposures to toxins in ambient air.

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