Nitric oxide (NO) serves as a messenger molecule in a variety of physiological systems and also converts into toxic radical species that can damage cells through a process known as nitrosative stress. While the physiological roles of NO in blood vessel dilation, the nervous system and the immune system are well established, recent studies have begun to investigate the role of NO in metabolism and energy expenditure through modulation of mitochondria. NO appears to stimulate mitochondrial biogenesis in certain situations through activation of proteins such as peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor γ (PPARγ) co-activator 1α (PGC1-α). Because of this link between NO and mitochondrial biogenesis, the role of NO in certain aspects of metabolism, including exercise response, obesity, fat cell differentiation and caloric restriction, are the subject of increasing investigation. In addition to its role in mitochondrial biogenesis, NO also stimulates mitochondrial fragmentation, which can be caused by too much mitochondrial fission or inhibition of mitochondrial fusion and can result in bioenergetic failure. While the contribution of NO-mediated mitochondrial fragmentation to neurodegenerative diseases seems clear, the mechanisms by which NO causes fragmentation are uncertain and controversial. In this review, we discuss the role of NO in manipulation of mitochondrial biogenesis and dynamics and how these events contribute to human health- and age-related disease.
© 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.