Respiratory burst is an abrupt release of chemically reactive oxygen molecules from cells within the body. This biological phenomenon plays a role in the immune system and can also be seen during the process of fertilizing an egg. The behavior has been observed in many different types of cells and is a topic of interest for researchers interested in developing new ways to support immune health. In addition, it is a subject for study in research involving damage to neighboring cells sometimes associated with a respiratory burst.
This process can be seen in action when a phagocyte destroys foreign material in the body. Phagocytes are specialized white blood cells designed to identify and engulf materials like bacteria, viruses, and fungi. As soon as the phagocyte has swallowed the invader, it can use a respiratory burst to blast it, causing it to degrade and break apart. This neutralizes the foreign material and prevents it from spreading elsewhere in the body.
Also known as an oxidative burst, respiratory burst can be used to attack a wide variety of unwanted organisms in the body. In the process of being attacked with reactive oxygen molecules, the targeted material undergoes oxidation, which degrades its genetic material and kills it. The highly effective cellular degradation accomplished with a respiratory burst can also work against the body, however, when neighboring healthy cells are exposed. The oxygen molecules cannot distinguish between friend and foe and will oxidize any cells they come into contact with.
Some pharmaceutical researchers are interested in developing products to promote and harness the respiratory burst function in the immune system. These products could be used to help the immune system fight disease more effectively. Instead of prescribing medications commonly associated with side effects caused by collateral damage, doctors could use a patient's own immune system to fight an infection and destroy unwanted viruses and bacteria.
The respiratory burst is also studied by researchers interested in learning how cells inside the body become damaged by reactive molecules of oxygen. Oxidative stress, as it is known, can contribute to a number of disease processes. Understanding how such molecules form and under what circumstances can help researchers address and prevent oxidative stress. Many cardiovascular diseases in particular have been linked with oxidative stress, and since these conditions are a leading cause of morbidity and mortality in many regions, finding new ways to fight them could be tremendously beneficial for the medical community.