Understanding the metabolism of essential metalloelements and their role in tissue maintenance and function as well as the roles of essential metalloelement-dependent enzymes in responding to injury offers a new approach to preventing and/or treating radiation injury. This review presents the roles of some essential metalloelement-dependent enzymes in the maintenance and function of tissues and their responses to radiation injury and gives an account of the observed effects of nontoxic doses of essential metalloelement compounds on protection against radiation damage and its recovery. The radiolysis of chemical bonds and free radicals derived from oxygen accounts for the acute and chronic aspects of radiation injury. The recognized biochemical roles of essential metalloelements and their observed pharmacological effects predict the therapeutic usefulness of essential metalloelement complexes in the prevention and/or treatment of radiation injury. Copper complexes have radiation protection and radiation recovery activities and cause rapid recovery of immunocompetence and radiation-induced damage to cells and tissues. Recently, iron, manganese, and zinc complexes have also been found to prevent death in lethally irradiated mice. These pharmacological effects of essential metalloelement complexes can be understood to be due to facilitation of de novo synthesis of essential metalloelement-dependent enzymes which have roles in preventing the accumulation of pathological concentrations of oxygen radicals or repairing damage caused by radiation-induced bond homolysis. Essential metalloelement complexes offer a physiological approach to prevention and/or treatment of radiation injury.

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