1. Superoxide and hydrogen peroxide are formed by activated phagocytes and react together in the presence of iron salts to form the hydroxyl radical, which attacks hyaluronic acid. Ascorbic acid also interacts with hydrogen peroxide and iron salts to form hydroxyl radical in a reaction independent of superoxide. Since iron salts, ascorbate and activated phagocytes are present in the rheumatoid joint, experiments were designed to see whether ascorbate-dependent or superoxide-dependent formation of hydroxyl radicals would be more important in vivo.
2. in the present study, addition of ascorbate to a superoxide-generating system at concentrations of 100 μmol/l provoked a superoxide-independent formation of hydroxyl radicals for a short period. Lower concentrations of ascorbate did not do this. It is therefore suggested that the superoxide-dependent reaction is probably more important.
3. It is further suggested that destruction of ascorbate by oxygen radicals formed by activated phagocytes accounts for the previously reported low concentrations of this compound in the serum and synovial fluid of rheumatoid patients.