Nitric oxide (NO) is produced in the upper and lower respiratory tract and can be detected in exhaled air of both healthy individuals and subjects with pulmonary diseases. Recent studies have shown that exhaled NO is mainly derived from the upper airways. There is, however, evidence that in aqueous solutions NO is rapidly converted to distinct oxides of nitrogen. We therefore studied the stable NO metabolites nitrate and nitrite in broncho-alveolar lavage (BAL) fluid and serum as indicators of NO formation in the lower respiratory tract. The study population consisted of 31 healthy children undergoing elective surgery for non-pulmonary illnesses and 13 immunosuppressed children with pneumonia. Nitrate and nitrite were determined photometrically. Nitrate was found in BAL fluid of all children. In children with pneumonia, nitrate concentrations in BAL fluid were significantly higher than in healthy children. A significant correlation was observed between nitrate in BAL fluid and serum of immunosuppressed children with pneumonia. Nitrite was not detected in any of the BAL fluid or serum samples.
Conclusions: Our results suggest that in the lower airways significant amounts of NO are metabolised to nitrate. Studies on NO in pulmonary diseases should therefore include determination of nitrate in lower airway fluids.