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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2001 Oct 23;98(22):12814-9. Epub 2001 Oct 16.

Plasma nitrite rather than nitrate reflects regional endothelial nitric oxide synthase activity but lacks intrinsic vasodilator action.

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Klinik für Kardiologie, Pneumologie, und Angiologie, Heinrich-Heine-Universität Moorenstrasse 5, D-40225 Düsseldorf, Germany.


The plasma level of NO(x), i.e., the sum of NO(2)- and NO(3)-, is frequently used to assess NO bioavailability in vivo. However, little is known about the kinetics of NO conversion to these metabolites under physiological conditions. Moreover, plasma nitrite recently has been proposed to represent a delivery source for intravascular NO. We therefore sought to investigate in humans whether changes in NO(x) concentration are a reliable marker for endothelial NO production and whether physiological concentrations of nitrite are vasoactive. NO(2)- and NO(3)- concentrations were measured in blood sampled from the antecubital vein and brachial artery of 24 healthy volunteers. No significant arterial-venous gradient was observed for either NO(2)- or NO(3)-. Endothelial NO synthase (eNOS) stimulation with acetylcholine (1-10 microg/min) dose-dependently augmented venous NO(2)- levels by maximally 71%. This effect was paralleled by an almost 4-fold increase in forearm blood flow (FBF), whereas an equieffective dose of papaverine produced no change in venous NO(2)-. Intraarterial infusion of NO(2)- had no effect on FBF. NOS inhibition (N(G)-monomethyl-l-arginine; 4-12 micromol/min) dose-dependently reduced basal NO(2)- and FBF and blunted acetylcholine-induced vasodilation and NO release by more than 80% and 90%, respectively. In contrast, venous NO(3)- and total NO(x) remained unchanged as did systemic arterial NO(2)- and NO(3)- levels during all these interventions. FBF and NO release showed a positive association (r = 0.85; P < 0.001). These results contradict the current paradigm that plasma NO(3)- and/or total NO(x) are generally useful markers of endogenous NO production and demonstrate that only NO(2)- reflects acute changes in regional eNOS activity. Our results further demonstrate that physiological levels of nitrite are vasodilator-inactive.

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