The respiratory tract is subjected to a variety of environmental stresses, including oxidizing gases, particulates, and airborne microorganisms, that together, may injure structural and functional lung components and thereby jeopardize the primary lung function of gas exchange. To cope with such various environmental threats, the lung has developed elaborate defense mechanisms that include inflammatory-immune pathways as well as several antioxidant systems. These defense systems operate largely in extracellular spaces, thus protecting underlying bronchial and alveolar epithelial cells from injury, although these cells themselves are also active participants in such (inflammatory) defense mechanisms. Although potentially harmful, oxidants are increasingly recognized as pathophysiologic mediators produced primarily by inflammatory-immune cells as a host defense mechanism, but also by various other cell types as an intracellular mediator in various cell responses, thus affecting inflammatory-immune processes or inducing resistance. The molecular mechanisms and signaling pathways involved in such processes are the focus of much current investigation. Nitric oxide, a messenger molecule produced by many lung cell types, also modulates oxidant- mediated processes, thereby giving rise to a new family of reactive nitrogen species ('nitrosants') with potentially unique signaling properties. The complex role of oxidants and nitrosants in various pathophysiologic processes in the lung have confounded the design of therapeutic approaches with antioxidant substrates. This review discusses current knowledge regarding extracellular antioxidant defenses in the lung, and oxidant/nitrosant mechanisms operating under inflammatory-immune conditions and their potential contribution to common lung diseases. Finally, some recent developments in antioxidant therapeutic strategies are discussed. (C) 2000 by Excerpta Medica, Inc.
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