Nitrite and nitrite reductases: from molecular mechanisms to significance in human health and disease

Antioxid Redox Signal. 2012 Aug 15;17(4):684-716. doi: 10.1089/ars.2011.4196. Epub 2012 Mar 16.


Nitrite, previously considered physiologically irrelevant and a simple end product of endogenous nitric oxide (NO) metabolism, is now envisaged as a reservoir of NO to be activated in response to oxygen (O(2)) depletion. In the first part of this review, we summarize and compare the mechanisms of nitrite-dependent production of NO in selected bacteria and in eukaryotes. Bacterial nitrite reductases, which are copper or heme-containing enzymes, play an important role in the adaptation of pathogens to O(2) limitation and enable microrganisms to survive in the human body. In mammals, reduction of nitrite to NO under hypoxic conditions is carried out in tissues and blood by an array of metalloproteins, including heme-containing proteins and molybdenum enzymes. In humans, tissues play a more important role in nitrite reduction, not only because most tissues produce more NO than blood, but also because deoxyhemoglobin efficiently scavenges NO in blood. In the second part of the review, we outline the significance of nitrite in human health and disease and describe the recent advances and pitfalls of nitrite-based therapy, with special attention to its application in cardiovascular disorders, inflammation, and anti-bacterial defence. It can be concluded that nitrite (as well as nitrate-rich diet for long-term applications) may hold promise as therapeutic agent in vascular dysfunction and ischemic injury, as well as an effective compound able to promote angiogenesis.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteria / enzymology
  • Humans
  • Nitrite Reductases / metabolism*
  • Nitrites / metabolism*
  • Nitrites / therapeutic use


  • Nitrites
  • Nitrite Reductases