Nitric oxide and pH modulation in gynaecological cancer

J Cell Mol Med. 2016 Dec;20(12):2223-2230. doi: 10.1111/jcmm.12921. Epub 2016 Jul 29.


Nitric oxide plays several roles in cellular physiology, including control of the vascular tone and defence against pathogen infection. Neuronal, inducible and endothelial nitric oxide synthase (NOS) isoforms synthesize nitric oxide. Cells generate acid and base equivalents, whose physiological intracellular concentrations are kept due to membrane transport systems, including Na+ /H+ exchangers and Na+ /HCO3- transporters, thus maintaining a physiological pH at the intracellular (~7.0) and extracellular (~7.4) medium. In several pathologies, including cancer, cells are exposed to an extracellular acidic microenvironment, and the role for these membrane transport mechanisms in this phenomenon is likely. As altered NOS expression and activity is seen in cancer cells and because this gas promotes a glycolytic phenotype leading to extracellular acidosis in gynaecological cancer cells, a pro-inflammatory microenvironment increasing inducible NOS expression in this cell type is feasible. However, whether abnormal control of intracellular and extracellular pH by cancer cells regards with their ability to synthesize or respond to nitric oxide is unknown. We, here, discuss a potential link between pH alterations, pH controlling membrane transport systems and NOS function. We propose a potential association between inducible NOS induction and Na+ /H+ exchanger expression and activity in human ovary cancer. A potentiation between nitric oxide generation and the maintenance of a low extracellular pH (i.e. acidic) is proposed to establish a sequence of events in ovarian cancer cells, thus preserving a pro-proliferative acidic tumour extracellular microenvironment. We suggest that pharmacological therapeutic targeting of Na+ /H+ exchangers and inducible NOS may have benefits in human epithelial ovarian cancer.

Keywords: NHE; pH; nitric oxide; ovarian cancer.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Female
  • Genital Neoplasms, Female / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Models, Biological
  • Nitric Oxide / metabolism*


  • Nitric Oxide