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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1996 Jun 25;93(13):6770-4.

Nitric oxide synthase generates superoxide and nitric oxide in arginine-depleted cells leading to peroxynitrite-mediated cellular injury.

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  • 1Molecular and Cellular Biophysics Laboratories, Department of Medicine, The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, Baltimore, MD 21224, USA.


Besides synthesizing nitric oxide (NO), purified neuronal NO synthase (nNOS) can produce superoxide (.O2-) at lower L-Arg concentrations. By using electron paramagnetic resonance spin-trapping techniques, we monitored NO and .O2- formation in nNOS-transfected human kidney 293 cells. In control transfected cells, the Ca2+ ionophore A23187 triggered NO generation but no .O2- was seen. With cells in L-Arg-free medium, we observed .O2- formation that increased as the cytosolic L-Arg levels decreased, while NO generation declined. .O2- formation was virtually abolished by the specific NOS blocker, N-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester (L-NAME). Nitrotyrosine, a specific nitration product of peroxynitrite, accumulated in L-Arg-depleted cells but not in control cells. Activation by A23187 was cytotoxic to L-Arg-depleted, but not to control cells, with marked lactate dehydrogenase release. The cytotoxicity was largely prevented by either superoxide dismutase or L-NAME. Thus, with reduced L-Arg availability NOS elicits cytotoxicity by generating .O2- and NO that interact to form the potent oxidant peroxynitrite. Regulating arginine levels may provide a therapeutic approach to disorders involving .O2-/NO-mediated cellular injury.

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