Nitric oxide in the nasal airway: a new dimension in otorhinolaryngology

Am J Otolaryngol. 2001 Jan-Feb;22(1):19-32. doi: 10.1053/ajot.2001.20700.


The discovery that the gas nitric oxide (NO) is an important signaling molecule in the cardiovascular system earned its Nobel prize in 1998. NO has since been found to play important roles in a variety of physiologic and pathophysiologic processes in the body including vasoregulation, hemostasis, neurotransmission, immune defense, and respiration. The surprisingly high concentrations of NO in the nasal airway and paranasal sinuses has important implications for the field of otorhinolaryngology. NO provides a first-line defense against micro-organisms through its antiviral and antimicrobial activity and by its upregulation of ciliary motility. Nasal treatments such as polypectomy, sinus surgery, removal of hypertrophic adenoids and tonsils, and treatment of allergic rhinitis may alter NO output and, therefore, the microbial colonization of the upper airways. Nasal surgery aimed at relieving nasal obstruction may do the same but would also be expected to improve pulmonary function in patients with asthma and upper airway obstruction. NO output rises in a number of conditions associated with chronic airway inflammation, but not all of them. Concentrations are increased in asthma, allergic rhinitis, and viral respiratory infections, but reduced in sinusitis, cystic fibrosis, primary ciliary dysfunction, chronic cough, and after exposure to tobacco and alcohol. Therefore, NO, similar to several other inflammatory mediators, probably subserves different functions as local conditions dictate. At present, it seems that the measurement of NO in the upper airway may prove valuable as a simple, noninvasive diagnostic marker of airway pathologies. The objective of this review is to highlight some aspects of the origin, physiology, and functions of upper airway NO, and to discuss the particular methodological problems that result from the complex anatomy.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Immune System / physiology
  • Nasal Mucosa / metabolism*
  • Nitric Oxide / metabolism
  • Nitric Oxide / physiology*
  • Otolaryngology*
  • Paranasal Sinus Diseases / metabolism
  • Respiration Disorders / metabolism
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology


  • Nitric Oxide