The NADPH oxidase of ‘professional’ phagocytic cells transfers electrons across the wall of the phagocytic vacuole, forming superoxide in the lumen. It is generally accepted that this system promotes microbial killing through the generation of reactive oxygen species and through the activity of myeloperoxidase. An alternative scenario exists in which the passage of electrons across the membrane alters the pH and generates a charge that drives ions into, and out of, the vacuole. It is proposed that the primary function of the oxidase is to produce these pH changes and ion fluxes, and the issues surrounding these processes are considered in this review. The neutrophil oxidase is the prototype of a whole family of NOXs (NAPDH oxidases) that exist throughout biology, from plants to humans, which might function, at least in part, in a similar fashion.

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