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Br J Dermatol. 2000 Mar;142(3):432-40.

Expression of the inducible isoform of nitric oxide synthase in pigment cell lesions of the skin.

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Department of Pathology, Laboratory of Histo- and Cytochemistry, University Hospital St Rafael, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, B-3000 Leuven, Belgium.


Nitric oxide (NO) is a small molecule produced during the conversion of L-arginine to L-citrulline by NO synthase (NOS). Several isoforms of NOS exist, of which the Ca2+-independent, inducible NOS (iNOS or NOS2) is most prominently expressed by macrophages. iNOS activity and increased levels of iNOS have been found in various tumours and tumour cell lines but not in normal tissues; however, the precise role of NO in tumour progression has yet to be elucidated. We studied the expression of iNOS in paraffin sections of 41 benign naevi and 52 primary malignant melanomas (MM) of the skin, as well as in 13 metastatic MM. In addition, nitrotyrosine, indicative of NO production and formation of peroxynitrite, was studied in frozen sections of 13 naevi and 30 MM. Virtually all naevi expressed iNOS, but very few expressed nitrotyrosine, indicating either that iNOS in naevi is functionally inactive, or that naevus cells lack reactive oxygen radicals and thus do not form peroxynitrite. Normal melanocytes in adjacent uninvolved skin were unreactive for both markers. In MM, iNOS was most frequently expressed in the 'pure' and 'invasive' radial growth phase (RGP), whereas expression in the vertical growth phase (VGP) and metastatic phase occurred only in 76% of cases; moreover, in these latest phases of tumour progression, iNOS staining was weak and focal. We conclude that iNOS is expressed de novo in most benign pigment cell lesions. In MM (iNOS-generated) NO appears to play an important part in the early steps of invasion (i.e. the 'invasive' RGP), where it may stimulate neo-angiogenesis and may be a prerequisite for further tumour progression; this view is also supported by the finding of iNOS in the associated blood vessels in the papillary dermis. Finally, our data suggest that (iNOS-generated) NO plays a less significant part in the VGP and in metastatic melanoma.

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