Synthesis and recycling of tetrahydrobiopterin in endothelial function and vascular disease

Nitric Oxide. 2011 Aug 1;25(2):81-8. doi: 10.1016/j.niox.2011.04.004. Epub 2011 Apr 22.


Nitric oxide, generated by the nitric oxide synthase (NOS) enzymes, plays pivotal roles in cardiovascular homeostasis and in the pathogenesis of cardiovascular disease. The NOS cofactor, tetrahydrobiopterin (BH4), is an important regulator of NOS function, since BH4 is required to maintain enzymatic coupling of L-arginine oxidation, to produce NO. Loss or oxidation of BH4 to 7,8-dihydrobiopterin (BH2) is associated with NOS uncoupling, resulting in the production of superoxide rather than NO. In addition to key roles in folate metabolism, dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR) can 'recycle' BH2, and thus regenerate BH4. It is therefore likely that net BH4 cellular bioavailability reflects the balance between de novo BH4 synthesis, loss of BH4 by oxidation to BH2, and the regeneration of BH4 by DHFR. Recent studies have implicated BH4 recycling in the direct regulation of eNOS uncoupling, showing that inhibition of BH4 recycling using DHFR-specific siRNA and methotrexate treatment leads to eNOS uncoupling in endothelial cells and the hph-1 mouse model of BH4 deficiency, even in the absence of oxidative stress. These studies indicate that not only BH4 level, but the recycling pathways regulating BH4 bioavailability represent potential therapeutic targets and will be discussed in this review.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Oxidoreductases / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Biological Transport
  • Biopterins / analogs & derivatives*
  • Biopterins / biosynthesis
  • Biopterins / metabolism
  • Biopterins / pharmacology
  • Dihydropteridine Reductase / metabolism
  • Endothelial Cells / drug effects*
  • GTP Cyclohydrolase / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Methotrexate / pharmacology
  • Mice
  • Nitric Oxide / metabolism
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase / metabolism
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Pterins / pharmacology
  • Tetrahydrofolate Dehydrogenase / metabolism
  • Vascular Diseases / drug therapy*


  • Pterins
  • Biopterins
  • Nitric Oxide
  • 7,8-dihydrobiopterin
  • sepiapterin
  • Alcohol Oxidoreductases
  • sepiapterin reductase
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase
  • Tetrahydrofolate Dehydrogenase
  • Dihydropteridine Reductase
  • GTP Cyclohydrolase
  • sapropterin
  • Methotrexate