Prooxidant action of desferrioxamine: Fenton-like production of hydroxyl radicals by reduced ferrioxamine

Donald C. Borg, Karen M. Schaich

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It is common practice in biochemical research to assume that iron bound to desferrioxamine (DFO) to form ferrioxamine (FOA) has been rendered inactive to subsequent redox chemistry within the range of physiological redox potentials, both in vitro and in vivo. However, plants and microorganisms can make iron metabolically available from ferrioxamine and closely related trihydroxamate siderophores, and at neutral pH, cyclic voltammetry of FOA demonstrates a reversible one-electron reduction at about -0.42 to -0.45 V (vs. normal hydrogen electrode), which is within the range of a number of reducing enzymes. We present evidence for the Fenton-like ability of FOA reduced by paraquat cation radicals to consume H2O2 and produce hydroxyl radicals (OH·) in the process. Similar reactions may explain previously reported potentiation of the oxidizing toxicity of paraquat in rats by high doses of DFO, as well as several other examples of prooxidant actions of DFO in vivo. We present the hypothesis that biphasic antioxidant/prooxidant behavior of DFO as a function of dose may be common with iron-catalyzed oxidizing reactions when mobile strong reducing agents are present. Hence, the real possibility of amplifying oxidizing damage must be considered when planning treatment with DFO, and failure of DFO to inhibit a particular response to oxidizing stress or its enhancement by DFO cannot, by itself, be considered sufficient evidence to rule out an iron-dependent process.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)237-243
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Free Radicals in Biology and Medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1986
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry


  • Desferrioxamine
  • Fenton reactions
  • Ferrioxamine
  • Hydroxyl radicals
  • Iron chelation
  • Prooxidant action
  • Redox cycling


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