Nitric oxide signaling in invertebrates

Invert Neurosci. 1997 Jun;3(1):1-14. doi: 10.1007/BF02481710.


Nitric oxide (NO) is an unconventional neurotransmitter and neuromodulator molecule that is increasingly found to have important signaling functions in animals from nematodes to mammals. NO signaling mechanisms in the past were identified largely through experiments on mammals, after the discovery of NO's vasodilatory functions. The use of gene knock out mice has been particularly important in revealing the functions of the several isoforms of nitric oxide synthase (NOS), the enzyme that produces NO. Recent studies have revealed rich diversity in NO signaling. In addition to the well-established pathway in which NO activates guanylyl cyclase and cGMP production, redox mechanisms involving protein nitrosylation are important contributors to modulation of neurotransmitter release and reception. NO signaling studies in invertebrates are now generating a wealth of comparative information. Invertebrate NOS isoforms have been identified in insects and molluscs, and the conserved and variable amino acid sequences evaluated. Calcium-calmodulin dependence and cofactor requirements are conserved. NADPH diaphorase studies show that NOS is found in echinoderms, coelenterates, nematodes, annelids, insects, crustaceans and molluscs. Accumulating evidence reveals that NO is used as an orthograde transmitter and cotransmitter, and as a modulator of conventional transmitter release. NO appears to be used in diverse animals for certain neuronal functions, such as chemosensory signaling, learning, and development, suggesting that these NO functions have been conserved during evolution. The discovery of NO's diverse and unconventional signaling functions has stimulated a plethora of enthusiastic investigations into its uses. We can anticipate the discovery of many more interesting and some surprising NO signaling functions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Invertebrates / physiology*
  • NADPH Dehydrogenase / metabolism
  • Nervous System / enzymology
  • Nitric Oxide / physiology*
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*


  • Nitric Oxide
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase
  • NADPH Dehydrogenase