✍️ Author: Dr Eleni Christoforidou
🕒 Approximate reading time: 4 minutes
Oxidative stress, an imbalance between the production of free radicals and the ability of the body to counteract their harmful effects, is becoming increasingly recognised as a crucial player in the health of neurons and the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative diseases.
Oxidative stress arises when there's an imbalance between the production of free radicals, such as reactive oxygen species (ROS), and the body's ability to detoxify these reactive intermediates or repair the resulting damage. These free radicals are highly reactive due to unpaired electrons and can cause oxidative damage to DNA, proteins, and lipids, potentially leading to cell death.
Neurons are particularly susceptible to oxidative stress due to their high metabolic rate, their reliance on oxidative phosphorylation for energy production, and their relatively low antioxidant capacity. Oxidative damage in neurons can lead to functional impairment and ultimately neuronal death.
Oxidative stress has been linked to several neurodegenerative diseases:
Alzheimer's Disease: Oxidative damage to proteins, lipids, and DNA has been observed in the brains of patients with Alzheimer's disease.
Parkinson's Disease: There is evidence of oxidative damage in the substantia nigra, a region of the brain affected in Parkinson's disease.
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS): Oxidative damage is also implicated in ALS, with increased levels of oxidative markers found in patients.
Given the role of oxidative stress in neurodegeneration, strategies to combat oxidative stress are being explored as potential treatments for these diseases. This could involve antioxidants that directly neutralise free radicals or drugs that enhance the body's own antioxidant defences.
While we are still in the early stages of understanding the complex role of oxidative stress in neuronal health and disease, it's clear that this cellular phenomenon plays a critical role in neurodegeneration. Future research aimed at further elucidating the molecular mechanisms of oxidative stress and developing ways to counteract it may hold the key to novel therapies for neurodegenerative diseases.