Nitric oxide transforms serotonin into an inactive form and this affects neuromodulation

Neuroscience. 1999;93(2):597-603. doi: 10.1016/s0306-4522(99)00165-7.


Nitric oxide is a highly reactive molecule, diffusible and therefore ubiquitous in the central nervous system. Consequently, nitric oxide or nitric oxide-derived nitrogen oxides must enter into contact with neuromodulators and they can modify these molecules, especially monoamines, and thus change their regulatory action on synaptic transmission. We tested this possibility on a well-known, identified cholinergic synapse of Aplysia buccal ganglion, in which we have found that evoked acetylcholine release was decreased by extracellularly applied serotonin. We show that this modulatory effect of serotonin was largely reduced not only in the presence of 3-morpholinosydnonimine, a nitric oxide donor, but also when endogenous nitric oxide synthase was activated. We have shown that this decrease in the serotonin effect is due to the formation of chemical derivatives of serotonin, mainly a symmetric serotonin dimer, 4-nitroso-serotonin and 4-nitro-serotonin, which are ineffective in reproducing the modulatory effect of serotonin. Serotonin is involved in the regulation of several central functions, such as sleep-wake activity or mood. The consequences of chemical modifications of serotonin by nitric oxide must be taken into account in physiological as well as pathological situations. In addition, our results highlight the importance of the physiological implications of interactions between free radicals and neuromediators in the nervous system.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Aplysia / physiology*
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Electrophysiology
  • Ganglia, Invertebrate / cytology
  • Ganglia, Invertebrate / drug effects
  • Ganglia, Invertebrate / physiology
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Membrane Potentials / physiology
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism*
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / physiology*
  • Nitric Oxide / pharmacology*
  • Parasympathetic Nervous System / drug effects
  • Parasympathetic Nervous System / physiology
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques
  • Serotonin / analogs & derivatives
  • Serotonin / metabolism*
  • Serotonin / physiology*
  • Synapses / drug effects
  • Synapses / physiology
  • Synaptic Transmission / drug effects
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology


  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Nitric Oxide
  • Serotonin
  • Acetylcholine