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Chem Res Toxicol. 2011 Dec 19;24(12):2071-92. doi: 10.1021/tx2003118. Epub 2011 Sep 30.

Secondary targets of nitrite-derived reactive nitrogen species: nitrosation/nitration pathways, antioxidant defense mechanisms and toxicological implications.

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Department of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of Naples Federico II, Complesso Universitario Monte S. Angelo, via Cinthia 4, I-80126 Naples, Italy.


Nitrite, the primary metabolite of nitric oxide (NO) and a widely diffused component of human diet, plays distinct and increasingly appreciated roles in human physiology. However, when exposed to acidic environments, typically in the stomach, or under oxidative stress conditions, it may be converted to a range of reactive nitrogen species (RNS) which in turn can target a variety of biomolecules. Typical consequences of toxicological relevance include protein modification, DNA base deamination and the formation of N-nitrosamines, among the most potent mutagenic and carcinogenic compounds for humans. Besides primary biomolecules, nitrite can cause structural modifications to a variety of endogenous and exogenous organic compounds, ranging from polyunsaturated fatty acids to estrogens, tocopherol, catecholamines, furans, retinoids, dietary phenols, and a range of xenobiotics. The study of the interactions between nitrite and key food components, including phenolic antioxidants, has therefore emerged as an area of great promise for delineating innovative strategies in cancer chemoprevention. Depending on substrates and conditions, diverse reaction pathways may compete to determine product features and distribution patterns. These include nitrosation and nitration but also oxidation, via electron transfer to nitrosonium ion or nitrogen dioxide. This contribution aims to provide an overview of the main classes of compounds that can be targeted by nitrite and to discuss at chemical levels the possible reaction mechanisms under conditions that model those occurring in the stomach. The toxicological implications of the nitrite-modified molecules are finally addressed, and a rational chemical approach to the design of potent antinitrosing agents is illustrated.

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