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NAC, NAC, Knockin' on Heaven's door: Interpreting the mechanism of action of N-acetylcysteine in tumor and immune cells. Redox Biol 2022 Nov;57:102497



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2-s2.0-85139734287 (requires institutional sign-in at Scopus site)   14 Citations


N-acetylcysteine (NAC) has been used as a direct scavenger of reactive oxygen species (hydrogen peroxide, in particular) and an antioxidant in cancer biology and immuno-oncology. NAC is the antioxidant drug most frequently employed in studies using tumor cells, immune cells, and preclinical mouse xenografts. Most studies use redox-active fluorescent probes such as dichlorodihydrofluorescein, hydroethidine, mitochondria-targeted hydroethidine, and proprietary kit-based probes (i.e., CellROX Green and CellROX Red) for intracellular detection of superoxide or hydrogen peroxide. Inhibition of fluorescence by NAC was used as a key experimental observation to support the formation of reactive oxygen species and redox mechanisms proposed for ferroptosis, tumor metastasis, and redox signaling in the tumor microenvironment. Reactive oxygen species such as superoxide and hydrogen peroxide stimulate or abrogate tumor cells and immune cells depending on multiple factors. Understanding the mechanism of antioxidants is crucial for interpretation of the results. Because neither NAC nor the fluorescent probes indicated above react directly with hydrogen peroxide, it is critically important to reinterpret the results to advance our understanding of the mechanism of action of NAC and shed additional mechanistic insight on redox-regulated signaling in tumor biology. To this end, this review is focused on how NAC could affect multiple pathways in cancer cells, including iron signaling, ferroptosis, and the glutathione-dependent antioxidant and redox signaling mechanism, and how NAC could inhibit oxidation of the fluorescent probes through multiple mechanisms.

Author List

Kalyanaraman B


Balaraman Kalyanaraman PhD Professor in the Biophysics department at Medical College of Wisconsin