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Free Radic Biol Med. 2006 Nov 1;41(9):1404-12. Epub 2006 Jul 27.

Intragastric generation of antimicrobial nitrogen oxides from saliva--physiological and therapeutic considerations.

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Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, Karolinska Institute, 177 76 Stockholm, Sweden.


Salivary nitrite is suggested to enhance the antimicrobial properties of gastric juice by conversion to nitric oxide (NO) and other reactive nitrogen intermediates in the stomach. Intubated patients exhibit extremely low gastric levels of NO, because they do not swallow their saliva. The present investigation was designed to examine the antibacterial effects of human saliva and gastric juice. Furthermore, we studied a new mode of NO delivery, involving formation from acidified nitrite, which could prevent bacterial growth in the gastric juice of intubated patients in intensive care units. The growth of Escherichia coli ATCC 25922 and the formation of NO and nitroso/nitrosyl species were determined after incubation of gastric juice with saliva from healthy volunteers that was rich (nitrate ingestion) or poor (overnight fasting) in nitrite. In a stomach model containing gastric juice from intubated patients, we inserted a catheter with a silicone retention cuff filled with ascorbic acid and nitrite and determined the resulting antibacterial effects on E. coli and Candida albicans. Saliva enhanced the bactericidal effect of gastric juice, especially saliva rich in nitrite. Formation of NO and nitroso/nitrosyl species by nitrite-rich saliva was 10-fold greater than that by saliva poor in nitrite. In our stomach model, E. coli and C. albicans were killed after exposure to ascorbic acid and nitrite. In conclusion, saliva rich in nitrite enhances the bactericidal effects of gastric juice, possibly through the generation of reactive nitrogen intermediates, including NO. Acidified nitrite inside a gas-permeable retention cuff may be useful for restoring gastric NO levels and host defense in critically ill patients.

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