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Cell Death Differ. 1999 Oct;6(10):969-75.

Nitric oxide (NO): an effector of apoptosis.

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University of Erlangen-Nürnberg, Faculty of Medicine, Department of Medicine IV-Experimental Division, 91054 Erlangen, Germany.


It is appreciated that the production of nitric oxide (NO) from L-arginine metabolism is an essential determinate of the innate immune system, important for nonspecific host defense, as well as tumor and pathogen killing. Cytotoxicity as a result of a substantial NO-formation is established to initiate apoptosis, characterized by upregulation of the tumor suppressor p53, changes in the expression of pro- and anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 family members, cytochrome c relocation, activation of caspases, chromatin condensation, and DNA fragmentation. Proof for the involvement of NO was demonstrated by blocking adverse effects by NO-synthase inhibition. However, NO-toxicity is not a constant value and NO may achieve cell protection as well. In part this is understood by transcription and translation of protective proteins, such as cyclooxygenase-2. Alternatively, protection may result as a consequence of a diffusion controlled NO/O2- (superoxide) interaction that redirects the apoptotic initiating activity of NO towards protection. NO is endowed with the unique ability to initiate and to block apoptosis, depending on multiple variables that exist to be elucidated. The crosstalk between cell destructive and protective signaling pathways under the modulatory influence of NO will determine the impact of NO in apoptotic cell death and survival.

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