Cerebral blood flow regulation by nitric oxide: recent advances

Pharmacol Rev. 2009 Mar;61(1):62-97. doi: 10.1124/pr.108.000547. Epub 2009 Mar 16.


Nitric oxide (NO) is undoubtedly quite an important intercellular messenger in cerebral and peripheral hemodynamics. This molecule, formed by constitutive isomers of NO synthase, endothelial nitric-oxide synthase, and neuronal nitric-oxide synthase, plays pivotal roles in the regulation of cerebral blood flow and cell viability and in the protection of nerve cells or fibers against pathogenic factors associated with cerebral ischemia, trauma, and hemorrhage. Cerebral blood flow is increased and cerebral vascular resistance is decreased by NO derived from endothelial cells, autonomic nitrergic nerves, or brain neurons under resting and stimulated conditions. Somatosensory stimulation also evokes cerebral vasodilatation mediated by neurogenic NO. Oxygen and carbon dioxide alter cerebral blood flow and vascular tone mainly via constitutively formed NO. Endothelial dysfunction impairs cerebral hemodynamics by reducing the bioavailability of NO and increasing the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS). The NO-ROS interaction is an important issue in discussing blood flow and cell viability in the brain. Recent studies on brain circulation provide quite useful information concerning the physiological roles of NO produced by constitutive isoforms of nitric-oxide synthase and how NO may promote cerebral pathogenesis under certain conditions, including cerebral ischemia/stroke, cerebral vasospasm after subarachnoid hemorrhage, and brain injury. This information would contribute to better understanding of cerebral hemodynamic regulation and its dysfunction and to development of novel therapeutic measures to treat diseases of the central nervous system.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cerebrovascular Circulation / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Nitric Oxide / physiology*
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase / metabolism*
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Vasodilation


  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Nitric Oxide
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase