, Volume 64, Issue 19, pp 2143–2157 | Cite as

Reactive Oxygen Species in the Cerebral Circulation

Physiological Roles and Therapeutic Implications for Hypertension and Stroke
  • Tamara M. Paravicini
  • Grant R. Drummond
  • Christopher G. Sobey
Leading Article


It is now clear that reactive oxygen species (ROS) can act as signalling molecules in the cerebral circulation under both physiological and pathological conditions. Some major products of superoxide (O2) metabolism, such as hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) and hydroxyl radical (OH•), appear to be particularly good cerebral vasodilators and may, surprisingly, represent important molecules for increasing local cerebral blood flow.

A major determinant of overall ROS levels in the cerebral circulation is the rate of generation of the parent molecule, O2. Although the major enzymatic source of O2 in cerebral arteries is yet to be conclusively established, the two most likely candidates are cyclo-oxygenase and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (reduced form) [NADPH] oxidase. The activity of endogenous superoxide dismutases (SODs) play a vital role in determining levels and effects of all individual ROS derived from metabolism of O2.

The term ‘oxidative stress’ may be an over-simplification that hides the complexity and diversity of the ROS family in cerebrovascular health and disease. Although a generalised increase in ROS levels seems to occur during several vascular disease states, the consequences of this for cerebrovascular function are still unclear.

Because enhanced breakdown of O2 by SOD will increase the generation of the powerful cerebral vasodilator H2O2, this latter molecule could conceivably act as a compensatory vasodilator mechanism in the cerebral circulation under conditions of elevated O2 production.

Some recent clinical data support the concept of a protective role for cerebrovascular NADPH oxidase activity. Although it is quite speculative at present, if NADPH oxidase were to emerge as a major source of beneficial vasodilator ROS in the cerebral circulation, this may represent a significant dilemma for treatment of ischaemic cerebrovascular conditions, as excessive NADPH oxidase activity is associated with the progression of several systemic vascular disease states, including hypertension and atherosclerosis.

Despite data suggesting that antioxidant vitamins can have beneficial effects on vascular function and that their plasma levels are inversely correlated with risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke, the results of several recent large-scale clinical trials of antioxidant supplementation have been disappointing.

Future work must establish whether or not increased ROS generation is necessarily detrimental to cerebral vascular function, as has been generally assumed, or whether localised increases in ROS in the vicinity of the arterial wall could be beneficial in disease states for the maintenance of cerebral blood flow.


Reactive Oxygen Species NADPH Oxidase Xanthine Oxidase Reactive Oxygen Species Level Cerebral Vasospasm 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Dr Sobey is supported by an R.D. Wright Fellowship (209160) from the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia (NHMRC). Dr Drummond is supported by a NHMRC Peter Doherty Postdoctoral Fellowship (007044). Ms Paravicini is supported by an Australian Postgraduate Award from the Australian Government.

Dr Sobey and Dr Drummond hold equity in Radical Biotechnology Pty Ltd, a University of Melbourne-based company developing drugs to treat cardiovascular diseases. Dr Sobey is a Director of this company. Neither author receives commission or any direct income from this company.


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Copyright information

© Adis Data Information BV 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tamara M. Paravicini
    • 1
    • 2
  • Grant R. Drummond
    • 2
  • Christopher G. Sobey
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PharmacologyThe University of MelbourneParkvilleAustralia
  2. 2.Howard Florey InstituteThe University of MelbourneParkvilleAustralia

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