Active secretion and protective effect of salivary nitrate against stress in human volunteers and rats

Free Radic Biol Med. 2013 Apr:57:61-7. doi: 10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2012.12.015. Epub 2012 Dec 28.


Up to 25% of the circulating nitrate in blood is actively taken up, concentrated, and secreted into saliva by the salivary glands. Salivary nitrate can be reduced to nitrite by the commensal bacteria in the oral cavity or stomach and then further converted to nitric oxide (NO) in vivo, which may play a role in gastric protection. However, whether salivary nitrate is actively secreted in human beings has not yet been determined. This study was designed to determine whether salivary nitrate is actively secreted in human beings as an acute stress response and what role salivary nitrate plays in stress-induced gastric injury. To observe salivary nitrate function under stress conditions, alteration of salivary nitrate and nitrite was analyzed among 22 healthy volunteers before and after a strong stress activity, jumping down from a platform at the height of 68 m. A series of stress indexes was analyzed to monitor the stress situation. We found that both the concentration and the total amount of nitrate in mixed saliva were significantly increased in the human volunteers immediately after the jump, with an additional increase 1h later (p<0.01). Saliva nitrite reached a maximum immediately after the jump and was maintained 1h later. To study the biological functions of salivary nitrate and nitrite in stress protection, we further carried out a water-immersion-restraint stress (WIRS) assay in male adult rats with bilateral parotid and submandibular duct ligature (BPSDL). Intragastric nitrate, nitrite, and NO; gastric mucosal blood flow; and gastric ulcer index (UI) were monitored and nitrate was administrated in drinking water to compensate for nitrate secretion in BPSDL animals. Significantly decreased levels of intragastric nitrate, nitrite, and NO and gastric mucosal blood flow were measured in BPSDL rats during the WIRS assay compared to sham control rats (p<0.05). Recovery was observed in the BPSDL rats upon nitrate administration. The WIRS-induced UI was significantly higher in the BPSDL animals compared to controls, and nitrate administration rescued the WIRS-induced gastric injury in BPSDL rats. In conclusion, this study suggests that stress promotes salivary nitrate secretion and nitrite formation, which may play important roles in gastric protection against stress-induced injury via the nitrate-dependent NO pathway.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Female
  • Gastric Juice / chemistry
  • Gastric Mucosa / blood supply
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nitrates / blood
  • Nitrates / metabolism*
  • Nitrites / blood
  • Nitrites / metabolism
  • Parotid Gland / surgery
  • Rats
  • Regional Blood Flow
  • Saliva / chemistry*
  • Salivary Ducts / surgery
  • Salivary Glands / metabolism*
  • Stomach Ulcer
  • Stress, Physiological*
  • Young Adult


  • Nitrates
  • Nitrites