The discovery within the paranasal sinuses for the production of nitric oxide (NO) has altered the traditional explanations of sinus physiology. This review article reports the ongoing investigation of sinus physiology beginning with the discovery of NO gas production in the paranasal sinuses that occurred in 1995, and the impact that finding has had both in the basic science and clinical arenas. It was shown that healthy paranasal sinus epithelium expresses an inducible NO synthase that continuously generates large amounts of NO, a pluripotent gaseous messenger with potent vasodilating, and antimicrobial activity. This NO can be measured noninvasively in nasally exhaled breath. The role of NO in the sinuses is likely to enhance local host defense mechanisms via direct inhibition of pathogen growth and stimulation of mucociliary activity. The NO concentration in a healthy sinus exceeds those that are needed for antibacterial effects in vitro. In patients with primary ciliary dyskinesia (PCD) and in cystic fibrosis, nasal NO is extremely low. This defect NO generation likely contributes to the great susceptibility to chronic sinusitis in these patients. In addition, the low-nasal NO is of diagnostic value especially in PCD, where nasal NO is very low or absent. Intriguingly, NO gas from the nose and sinuses is inhaled with every breath and reaches the lungs in a more diluted form to enhance pulmonary oxygen uptake via local vasodilation. In this sense NO may be regarded as an "aerocrine" hormone that is produced in the nose and sinuses and transported to a distal site of action with every inhalation.
Copyright 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.