Hypoxia tolerance, nitric oxide, and nitrite: lessons from extreme animals

Physiology (Bethesda). 2015 Mar;30(2):116-26. doi: 10.1152/physiol.00051.2014.


Among vertebrates able to tolerate periods of oxygen deprivation, the painted and red-eared slider turtles (Chrysemys picta and Trachemys scripta) and the crucian carp (Carassius carassius) are the most extreme and can survive even months of total lack of oxygen during winter. The key to hypoxia survival resides in concerted physiological responses, including strong metabolic depression, protection against oxidative damage and-in air-breathing animals-redistribution of blood flow. Each of these responses is known to be tightly regulated by nitric oxide (NO) and during hypoxia by its metabolite nitrite. The aim of this review is to highlight recent work illustrating the widespread roles of NO and nitrite in the tolerance to extreme oxygen deprivation, in particular in the red-eared slider turtle and crucian carp, but also in diving marine mammals. The emerging picture underscores the importance of NO and nitrite signaling in the adaptive response to hypoxia in vertebrate animals.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Animals
  • Blood Circulation
  • Hypoxia / blood
  • Hypoxia / metabolism*
  • Hypoxia / physiopathology
  • Nitrates / blood
  • Nitrates / metabolism*
  • Nitric Oxide / blood
  • Nitric Oxide / metabolism*
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Signal Transduction
  • Species Specificity
  • Vertebrates / blood
  • Vertebrates / metabolism*


  • Nitrates
  • Nitric Oxide