Nitric oxide in health and disease of the respiratory system

Physiol Rev. 2004 Jul;84(3):731-65. doi: 10.1152/physrev.00034.2003.


During the past decade a plethora of studies have unravelled the multiple roles of nitric oxide (NO) in airway physiology and pathophysiology. In the respiratory tract, NO is produced by a wide variety of cell types and is generated via oxidation of l-arginine that is catalyzed by the enzyme NO synthase (NOS). NOS exists in three distinct isoforms: neuronal NOS (nNOS), inducible NOS (iNOS), and endothelial NOS (eNOS). NO derived from the constitutive isoforms of NOS (nNOS and eNOS) and other NO-adduct molecules (nitrosothiols) have been shown to be modulators of bronchomotor tone. On the other hand, NO derived from iNOS seems to be a proinflammatory mediator with immunomodulatory effects. The concentration of this molecule in exhaled air is abnormal in activated states of different inflammatory airway diseases, and its monitoring is potentially a major advance in the management of, e.g., asthma. Finally, the production of NO under oxidative stress conditions secondarily generates strong oxidizing agents (reactive nitrogen species) that may modulate the development of chronic inflammatory airway diseases and/or amplify the inflammatory response. The fundamental mechanisms driving the altered NO bioactivity under pathological conditions still need to be fully clarified, because their regulation provides a novel target in the prevention and treatment of chronic inflammatory diseases of the airways.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Inhalation
  • Animals
  • Asthma / physiopathology
  • Exhalation
  • Health*
  • Humans
  • Nitric Oxide / administration & dosage
  • Nitric Oxide / metabolism*
  • Nitric Oxide / therapeutic use
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Respiration Disorders / metabolism*
  • Respiratory Physiological Phenomena
  • Respiratory System / physiopathology


  • Nitric Oxide