Nitric oxide reactivity and mechanisms involved in its biological effects

Pharmacol Res. 2000 Nov;42(5):421-7. doi: 10.1006/phrs.2000.0701.


Nitric oxide (NO) is implicated in many different biological functions. This is due to its widespread distribution in tissue and to its ability to react with a range of molecules in the organism, of which haemoglobin (Hb), soluble guanylyl cyclase (GC), and superoxide anion are of particular note. In this review we describe the biological pathways of NO and their involvement in its physiological effects and toxicity. This endothelial factor rapidly diffuses into the vascular compartment, and the reaction with the Hb haem group is the main metabolic pathway for endogenous NO. Hb is, therefore, a scavenger for this mediator, which prevents it from reaching the tissue components. NO also reacts with the GC haem group, and this combination is fundamental to its acute vasorelaxing effect. Although molecular oxygen plays a very small part in the oxidization process of NO in biological systems, NO reacts with the superoxide anion to generate peroxynitrite at a rate that is limited only by its diffusion coefficient. This reaction is important in pathological conditions because the peroxynitrite thus formed is a selective oxidant and nitrating agent that interacts with numerous biological molecules, thereby damaging them. In addition, of particular note are the interactions of NO with thiol groups, which may mediate several relevant effects in the organism. NO may also activate endogenous ribosyltransferases, which facilitate the transfer of adenosine diphosphate-ribose groups from nicotine adenine dinucleotide to the G protein amino acid residues. These last two processes may also be involved in the control of arterial tone and more precisely so when chronic NO production takes place.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Guanylate Cyclase / metabolism
  • Hemoglobins / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Nitrates / metabolism
  • Nitric Oxide / metabolism*
  • Nitric Oxide / physiology
  • Poly(ADP-ribose) Polymerases / metabolism
  • Sulfhydryl Compounds / metabolism
  • Vasodilation / physiology


  • Hemoglobins
  • Nitrates
  • Sulfhydryl Compounds
  • peroxynitric acid
  • Nitric Oxide
  • Poly(ADP-ribose) Polymerases
  • Guanylate Cyclase