Gastrointestinal bacteria generate nitric oxide from nitrate and nitrite

Nitric Oxide. 2005 Dec;13(4):272-8. doi: 10.1016/j.niox.2005.08.002. Epub 2005 Sep 22.


Denitrifying bacteria in soil generate nitric oxide (NO) from nitrite as a part of the nitrogen cycle, but little is known about NO production by commensal bacteria. We used a chemiluminescence assay to explore if human faeces and different representative gut bacteria are able to generate NO. Bacteria were incubated anaerobically in gas-tight bags, with or without nitrate or nitrite in the growth medium. In addition, luminal NO levels were measured in vivo in the intestines in germ-free and conventional rats, and in rats mono-associated with lactobacilli. We show that human faeces can generate NO after nitrate or nitrite supplementation. Lactobacilli and bifidobacteria generated much NO from nitrite, but only a few of the tested strains produced NO from nitrate and at much lower levels. In contrast, Escherichia coli, Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron, and Clostridium difficile did not produce significant amounts of NO either with nitrate or nitrite. NO generation in the gut lumen was also observed in vivo in conventional rats but not in germ-free rats or in rats mono-associated with lactobacilli. We conclude that NO can be generated by the anaerobic gut flora in the presence of nitrate or nitrite. Future studies will reveal its biological significance in regulation of gastrointestinal integrity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Feces / microbiology
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / metabolism*
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / microbiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nitrates / metabolism*
  • Nitric Oxide / biosynthesis*
  • Nitrites / metabolism*


  • Nitrates
  • Nitrites
  • Nitric Oxide