Nitric oxide, a double edged sword in cancer biology: searching for therapeutic opportunities

Med Res Rev. 2007 May;27(3):317-52. doi: 10.1002/med.20092.


Nitric oxide (NO) is a pleiotropic molecule critical to a number of physiological and pathological processes. The last decade has witnessed major advances in dissecting NO biology and its role in cancer pathogenesis. However, the complexity of the interactions between different levels of NO and several aspects of tumor development/progression has led to apparently conflicting findings. Furthermore, both anti-NO and NO-based anticancer strategies appear effective in several preclinical models. This paradoxical dichotomy is leaving investigators with a double challenge: to determine the net impact of NO on cancer behavior and to define the therapeutic role of NO-centered anticancer strategies. Only a comprehensive and dynamic view of the cascade of molecular and cellular events underlying tumor biology and affected by NO will allow investigators to exploit the potential antitumor properties of drugs interfering with NO metabolism. Available data suggest that NO should be considered neither a universal target nor a magic bullet, but rather a signal transducer to be modulated according to the molecular makeup of each individual cancer and the interplay with conventional antineoplastic agents.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Apoptosis / physiology
  • DNA Damage / drug effects
  • Disease Progression
  • Genetic Therapy
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / immunology
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Nitric Oxide / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Nitric Oxide / physiology*
  • Nitric Oxide / therapeutic use*
  • Nitric Oxide Donors / therapeutic use
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase / genetics
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase / metabolism
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase / therapeutic use
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Reactive Nitrogen Species / physiology


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Nitric Oxide Donors
  • Reactive Nitrogen Species
  • Nitric Oxide
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase