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Int Immunopharmacol. 2001 Aug;1(8):1397-406.

Nitric oxide in immunity and inflammation.

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Department of Pharmacology, University of Liverpool, UK.


Nitric oxide (NO) is synthesised by many cell types involved in immunity and inflammation. The principal enzyme involved is the inducible type-2 isoform of nitric oxide synthase (NOS-2), which produces high-level sustained NO synthesis. NO is important as a toxic defense molecule against infectious organisms. It also regulates the functional activity, growth and death of many immune and inflammatory cell types including macrophages, T lymphocytes, antigen-presenting cells, mast cells, neutrophils and natural killer cells. However, the role of NO in nonspecific and specific immunity in vivo and in immunologically mediated diseases and inflammation is poorly understood. NO does not act through a receptor-its target cell specificity depends on its concentration, its chemical reactivity, the vicinity of target cells and the way that target cells are programmed to respond. At high concentrations as generated by NOS-2, NO is rapidly oxidised to reactive nitrogen oxide species (RNOS) that mediate most of the immunological effects of NOS-2-derived NO. RNOS can S-nitrosate thiols to modify key signalling molecules such as kinases and transcription factors. Several key enzymes in mitochondrial respiration are also inhibited by RNOS and this leads to a depletion of ATP and cellular energy. A combination of these interactions may explain the multiple actions of NO in the regulation of immune and inflammatory cells.

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