With one unpaired electron, the superoxide ion is a free radical. Free radicals are highly unstable molecules that can damage cells. Free radicals are produced in the course of normal metabolic processes (some free radicals, in fact, play useful roles in the body), but they can also be produced by exposure to environmental contaminants, tobacco smoke, radiation or UV light on the skin.
The action of free radicals depends on the transfer of electrons from one molecule to another. Free radicals steal electrons from molecules in cells, in the process causing cell damage that may lead to conditions such as the inflammation of vessel walls (which can cause plaque buildup) and damage to cellular DNA which can lead to cancer. Free radical damage may also play a role in the development of degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer`s, Parkinson`s and rheumatoid arthritis. The gradual accumulation of free radicals over time is believed by many to be responsible for the process of aging.
In this model, oxygen atoms are red.
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