Endothelial nitric oxide synthase in vascular disease: from marvel to menace

Circulation. 2006 Apr 4;113(13):1708-14. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.105.602532.


Nitric oxide (NO*) is an important protective molecule in the vasculature, and endothelial NO* synthase (eNOS) is responsible for most of the vascular NO* produced. A functional eNOS oxidizes its substrate L-arginine to L-citrulline and NO*. This normal function of eNOS requires dimerization of the enzyme, the presence of the substrate L-arginine, and the essential cofactor (6R)-5,6,7,8-tetrahydro-L-biopterin (BH4), one of the most potent naturally occurring reducing agents. Cardiovascular risk factors such as hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, diabetes mellitus, or chronic smoking stimulate the production of reactive oxygen species in the vascular wall. Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADPH) oxidases represent major sources of this reactive oxygen species and have been found upregulated and activated in animal models of hypertension, diabetes, and sedentary lifestyle and in patients with cardiovascular risk factors. Superoxide (O2*-) reacts avidly with vascular NO* to form peroxynitrite (ONOO-). The cofactor BH4 is highly sensitive to oxidation by ONOO-. Diminished levels of BH4 promote O2*- production by eNOS (referred to as eNOS uncoupling). This transformation of eNOS from a protective enzyme to a contributor to oxidative stress has been observed in several in vitro models, in animal models of cardiovascular diseases, and in patients with cardiovascular risk factors. In many cases, supplementation with BH4 has been shown to correct eNOS dysfunction in animal models and patients. In addition, folic acid and infusions of vitamin C are able to restore eNOS functionality, most probably by enhancing BH4 levels as well.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Endothelium, Vascular / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Nitric Oxide / biosynthesis
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type III / metabolism*
  • Oxidative Stress*
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Vascular Diseases / enzymology
  • Vascular Diseases / metabolism
  • Vascular Diseases / physiopathology*


  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Nitric Oxide
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type III