There are numerous links between free-radical reactions and immune cell functions. White blood cell membranes, as with all cellular membranes, are composed of lipids containing saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. Unsaturated bonds in fatty acids are highly susceptible to free-radical attack, one consequence of which is to adversely affect the integrity of the cell's membranes. For instance, oxygen-containing radicals and the products of their reactions have been shown to decrease the fluidity of white blood cell membranes (reviewed in Baker and Meydani, 1994) and synovial fluids, consequently reducing their function (Merry et al., 1989). Loss of membrane fluidity has been directly related to the decreased ability of lymphocytes to respond to challenges to the immune system (Bendich, 1990, 1994b). Free radicals can also damage DNA and result in mutations, altered capacity of cells to produce critical factors and derangement of the capacity to proliferate. Systemic free-radical damage is often measured by examining oxidative damage to DNA in lymphocytes. Duthie et al. (1996) have shown that supplementation with vitamins C, E and p-carotene significantly reduces endogenous DNA damage to lymphocytes and increases lymphocyte resistance to exogenous oxidative challenge.
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