The selective in vitro anti-tumor mechanisms of cold atmospheric plasma (CAP) and plasma-activated media (PAM) follow a sequential multi-step process. The first step involves the formation of primary singlet oxygen (1O2) through the complex interaction between NO2 − and H2O2. 1O2 then inactivates some membrane-associated catalase molecules on at least a few tumor cells. With some molecules of their protective catalase inactivated, these tumor cells allow locally surviving cell-derived, extracellular H2O2 and ONOO─ to form secondary 1O2. These species continue to inactivate catalase on the originally triggered cells and on adjacent cells. At the site of inactivated catalase, cell-generated H2O2 enters the cell via aquaporins, depletes glutathione and thus abrogates the cell’s protection towards lipid peroxidation. Optimal inactivation of catalase then allows efficient apoptosis induction through the HOCl signaling pathway that is finalized by lipid peroxidation. An identical CAP exposure did not result in apoptosis for nonmalignant cells. A key conclusion from these experiments is that tumor cell-generated RONS play the major role in inactivating protective catalase, depleting glutathione and establishing apoptosis-inducing RONS signaling. CAP or PAM exposure only trigger this response by initially inactivating a small percentage of protective membrane associated catalase molecules on tumor cells.
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