Chemical biology of nitric oxide: Insights into regulatory, cytotoxic, and cytoprotective mechanisms of nitric oxide

Free Radic Biol Med. 1998 Sep;25(4-5):434-56. doi: 10.1016/s0891-5849(98)00092-6.


There has been confusion as to what role(s) nitric oxide (NO) has in different physiological and pathophysiological mechanisms. Some studies imply that NO has cytotoxic properties and is the genesis of numerous diseases and degenerative states, whereas other reports suggest that NO prevents injurious conditions from developing and promotes events which return tissue to homeostasis. The primary determinant(s) of how NO affects biological systems centers on its chemistry. The chemistry of NO in biological systems is extensive and complex. To simplify this discussion, we have formulated the "chemical biology of NO" to describe the pertinent chemical reactions under specific biological conditions. The chemical biology of NO is divided into two major categories, direct and indirect. Direct effects are defined as those reactions fast enough to occur between NO and specific biological molecules. Indirect effects do not involve NO, but rather are mediated by reactive nitrogen oxide species (RNOS) formed from the reaction of NO either with oxygen or superoxide. RNOS formed from NO can mediate either nitrosative or oxidative stress. This report discusses various aspects of the chemical biology of NO relating to biological molecules such as guanylate cyclase, cytochrome P450, nitric oxide synthase, catalase, and DNA and explores the potential roles of NO in different biological events. Also, the implications of different chemical reactions of NO with cellular processes such as mitochondrial respiration, metal homeostasis, and lipid metabolism are discussed. Finally, a discussion of the chemical biology of NO in different cytotoxic mechanisms is presented.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Cell Death*
  • Cytoprotection*
  • Humans
  • Nitric Oxide / chemistry
  • Nitric Oxide / metabolism*
  • Nitric Oxide / pharmacology*
  • Nitric Oxide / toxicity
  • Oxygen / chemistry
  • Oxygen / metabolism
  • Superoxides / chemistry
  • Superoxides / metabolism


  • Superoxides
  • Nitric Oxide
  • Oxygen