Mediators of asthma: nitric oxide

Pulm Pharmacol Ther. 2002;15(2):73-81. doi: 10.1006/pupt.2001.0332.


Endogenous nitric oxide is an ubiquitous gaseous molecule that regulates many aspects of human airway biology including the modulation of airway and vascular smooth muscle tone. It is generated from the three different enzymes nitric oxide synthases (NOS) -1, -2 and -3 which are all expressed in pulmonary cells. NOS-1 is localised primarily to neuronal structures, where NO is a mediator of the inhibitory Non-Adrenergic Non-Cholinergic System and NOS-3 is present in endothelial cells. While these enzymes are constitutively expressed, NOS-2 is an inducible enzyme independent of calcium and highly induced in inflammatory diseases such as allergic asthma, where NO may act beneficial or deleterious depending on the site of and amount of generation. The use of NO-donor compounds or classical unselective NOS inhibitors did not lead to significant therapeutical effects in asthmatic patients. Insights on the precise role of NO in asthma can only be achieved by targeting NO generation selectively. More potent and selective NOS-2 inhibitors have to clarify a role of NOS-modification based therapy in clinical routine. NO can also be detected in the exhaled air. Increased levels of exhaled NO in asthmatic patients may be useful for a non-invasive determination of airway inflammation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Asthma / metabolism*
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Muscle, Smooth, Vascular / drug effects
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase / physiology
  • Nitric Oxide* / biosynthesis
  • Nitric Oxide* / metabolism
  • Nitric Oxide* / physiology
  • Signal Transduction


  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Nitric Oxide
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase