Nitric oxide in cell survival: a janus molecule

Antioxid Redox Signal. 2009 Nov;11(11):2717-39. doi: 10.1089/ars.2009.2721.


Nitric oxide (NO), plays multiple roles in the nervous system. In addition to regulating proliferation, survival and differentiation of neurons, NO is involved in synaptic activity, neural plasticity, and memory function. Nitric oxide promotes survival and differentiation of neural cells and exerts long-lasting effects through regulation of transcription factors and modulation of gene expression. Signaling by reactive nitrogen species is carried out mainly by targeted modifications of critical cysteine residues in proteins, including S-nitrosylation and S-oxidation, as well as by lipid nitration. NO and other reactive nitrogen species are also involved in neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration, such as in Alzheimer disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Parkinson disease, multiple sclerosis, Friedreich ataxia, and Huntington disease. Susceptibility to NO and peroxynitrite exposure may depend on factors such as the intracellular reduced glutathione and cellular stress resistance signaling pathways. Thus, neurons, in contrast to astrocytes, appear particularly vulnerable to the effects of nitrosative stress. This article reviews the current understanding of the cytotoxic versus cytoprotective effects of NO in the central nervous system, highlighting the Janus-faced properties of this small molecule. The significance of NO in redox signaling and modulation of the adaptive cellular stress responses and its exciting future perspectives also are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Survival / physiology
  • Central Nervous System / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Nitric Oxide / metabolism*
  • Reactive Nitrogen Species / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / physiology


  • Reactive Nitrogen Species
  • Nitric Oxide