Nitrogen chemistry and lung physiology

Annu Rev Physiol. 2015;77:431-52. doi: 10.1146/annurev-physiol-021113-170352.


The versatile chemistry of nitrogen is important to pulmonary physiology. Indeed, almost all redox forms of nitrogen are relevant to pulmonary physiology and to pathophysiology. Here we review the relevance to pulmonary biology of (a) elemental nitrogen; (b) reduced forms of nitrogen such as amines, ammonia, and hydroxylamine; and (c) oxidized forms of nitrogen such as the nitroxyl anion, the nitric oxide free radical, and S-nitrosothiols. Our focus is on oxidized nitrogen in the form of S-nitrosothiol bond-containing species, which are now appreciated to be important to every type of cell-signaling process in the lung. We also review potential clinical applications of nitrogen oxide biochemistry. These principles are being translated into clinical practice as diagnostic techniques and therapies for a range of pulmonary diseases including asthma, cystic fibrosis, adult respiratory distress syndrome, primary ciliary dyskinesia, and pulmonary hypertension.

Keywords: S-nitrosylation; asthma; cystic fibrosis; denitrification; lung ecology; nitric oxide; pulmonary hypertension.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amines / metabolism
  • Ammonia / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Humans
  • Lung / physiology*
  • Lung Diseases / metabolism*
  • Lung Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Nitric Oxide / metabolism
  • Nitrogen / metabolism*
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • S-Nitrosothiols / metabolism


  • Amines
  • S-Nitrosothiols
  • Nitric Oxide
  • Ammonia
  • Nitrogen