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Biochim Biophys Acta. 1999 May 5;1411(2-3):273-89.

Nitric oxide metabolism and breakdown.

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Department of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Pulmonary Diseases and Angiology, Heinrich-Heine-University, Moorenstrasse 5, D-40225, Düsseldorf, Germany.


The steady-state concentration and thus the biological effects of NO are critically determined not only by its rate of formation, but also by its rate of decomposition. Bioreactivity of NO at physiological concentrations may differ substantially from that suggested by in vitro experiments. The charge neutrality and its high diffusion capacity are hallmarks that characterize NO bioactivity. Reactive oxygen derived species are major determinants of NO breakdown. Biotransformation of NO and its related N-oxides occurs via different metabolic routes within the body. S-Nitrosothiols formed upon reaction of NO with redox-activated thiols represent an active storage pool for NO. The major oxidative metabolites represent nitrite and nitrate, the ratio of both is determined by the microenvironmental redox conditions. In humans, circulating nitrite represents an attractive estimate of regional endothelial NO formation, whereas nitrate, with some caution, appears useful in estimating overall nitrogen/NO turnover. Within the near future, more specific biochemical tools for diagnosis of reduced NO bioactivity will become available. Increasing knowledge on the complex metabolism of NO in vivo will lead to the development of new therapeutic strategies to enhance bioactivity of NO via modulation of its metabolism.

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