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Nitric Oxide. 2004 Nov;11(3):247-55.

Nitric oxide formation in the oropharyngeal tract: possible influence of cigarette smoking.

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Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.


Cigarette smoking reduces the level of nitric oxide (NO) in exhaled air by an unknown mechanism. The view that part of the effect of cigarette smoking on NO production should occur in the oropharyngeal tract is supported by several studies. We have therefore compared smokers and non-smokers regarding non-enzymatic formation of NO from nitrite in the oral cavity since this is a primary candidate target for cigarette smoke. We have also looked at NO synthase-dependent NO formation in the mucosa of the oropharyngeal tract as an alternative target for the inhibitory effect induced by cigarette smoke. Smokers exhaled 67% lower levels of NO than controls (p<0.01, n=15 each group). We could not detect any significant difference in salivary nitrite, nitrate or ascorbate between smokers and non-smokers. Mouthwash with the antibacterial agent chlorhexidine reduced salivary nitrite (-65%) and exhaled NO levels (-10%) similarly in the two groups. Immunohistochemical techniques revealed dense expression of inducible (but not endothelial or neuronal) NO synthase in the squamous epithelium of non-inflamed tonsillar and gingival tissue biopsies. In the same biopsies, significant Ca2+ -independent citrulline-forming activity was detected. We found no difference between smoking and non-smoking subjects regarding NO-synthase expression and in vitro activity. In another group of non-smoking subjects (n=10), spraying the oropharyngeal tract with the NO-synthase inhibitor NG-monomethyl-L-arginine (250 mg) significantly reduced exhaled NO levels for at least 30 min (-18%, p<0.01). Our data suggest that cigarette smoking does not affect non-enzymatic NO formation from nitrite in saliva. However, NO is also formed by inducible NO synthase in the squamous epithelium of the normal oropharyngeal tract. We suggest that cigarette smoking may down-regulate enzymatic NO formation in the oropharyngeal compartment as well as in the bronchial compartment.

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