Curator/ Author: Aviral Vatsa, PhD, MBBS
NO is a very small molecule, with a short half life (<5 sec). It diffuses rapidly to its surroundings and is metabolised to nitrites and nitrates. It can travel short distances, a few micrometers, before it is oxidised. Although it was previously believed that NO can only exert its effect for a very short time as other nitrogen oxides were believed to be biologically inert. Recent data suggests that other NO containing compounds such as S- or N-nitrosoproteins and iron-nitrosyl complexes can be reduced back to produce NO. These NO containing compounds can serve as storage and can reach distant tissues via blood circulation, remote from their place of origin. Hence NO can have both paracrine and ‘endocrine’ effects.
Intracellularly the oxidants present in the cytosol determine the amount of bioacitivity that NO performs. NO can travel roughly 100 microns from NOS enzymes where it is produced. NOS enzymes on the other hand are localised to specific sub-cellular areas, which have relevant proteins in the vicinity as targets for signalling.
NO signalling occurs primarily via three mechanisms (according to Martínez-Ruiz et al):
- Classical: This occurs via soluble guanylyl cyclase (sGC). Once NO is produced by NOS it diffuses to sGC intracellularly or even in other cells. SGC is highly sensitive for NO, even nanomolar amounts of NO activates sGC, thus making it a potent target for NO in signalling pathways. sGC in turn increases the conversion of GTP to cGMP. cGMP further mediates the regulation of contractile proteins and gene expression pathways via cGMP-activated protein kinases (PKGs). cGMPs cause confirmational changes in PKGs. Signalling by cGMP is terminated by the action of phosphodiestrases (PDEs). PDEs have become major therapeutic targets in the upcoming exciting research projects.
- Less classical: Within the mitochondria NO can compete with O2 and inhibit cytochrome c oxidase (CcO) enzyme. This is a reversible inhibition that depends on O2and NO concentrations and can occur at physiological levels of NO. Various studies have demonstrated that endogenously generated NO can inhibit respiration or that NOS inhibitors can increase respiration at cellular, tissue or whole animal level. Although the exact mechanism of CcO inhibition of NO is still debated, NO-CcO interaction is considered important signalling step in a variety of functions such as inhibition of mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation, apoptosis and reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation. Interestingly, at higher concentration (~1nM) NO can cause irreversible inhibition of cellular oxidation by reversible and/or irreversible damage to the mitochondrial iron–sulfur centers,In addition to the above mentioned pathways, NO (along with AMP, ROS and O2), can also activate AMP- activated protein kinase (AMPK), an enzyme that plays a central role in regulating intracellular energy metabolism. NO can also regulate hypoxia inducible factor (HIF), an O2-dependent transcription factor that plays a key role in cell adaptation to hypoxia .
- Non- classical: S-nitrosylation or S-nitrosation is the covalent insertion of NO into thiol groups such as of cysteine residues of proteins. It is precise, reversible, and spatiotemporally restricted post translational modification. This chemical activity is dependent upon the reactivity between nitrosylating agent (a small molecule) and the target (protein residue). It might appear that this generic interaction results in non-specific, wide spread chemical activity with various proteins. However, three factors might determine the regulation of specificity of s-nitrosylation for signalling purposes:
- Subcellular compartmentalisation: high concentrations of nitrosylating agents are required in the vicinity of target residues, thus making it a specific activity.
- Site specificity: certain cysteine residues are more reactive in specific protein microenvironments than others, thus favouring their modification. As a result under physiological conditions only a specific number of cysteine residues would be modified, but under higher NO levels even the slow reacting ones would be modified. Increased impetus in research in this area to determine protein specificity to s-nitrosylation provides huge potential in discovering new therapeutic targets.
- Denitrosylation: different rates of denitrosylation result in s-nitrosylation specificity.
Other modifications in non classical NO mechanisms include S-glutathionylation and tyrosine nitration
Peroxynitrite: It is one of the important reactive nitrogen species that has immense biological relevance. NO reacts with superoxide to form peroxynitrite. Production of peroxynitrite depletes the bioactivty of NO in physiological systems. Peroxynitrite can diffuse through membranes and react with cellular components such as mitochondrial proteins, DNA, lipids, thiols, and amino acid residues. Peroxynitrite can modify proteins such as haemoglobin, myoglobin and cytochrome c. it can alter calcium homeostasis and promote mitochondrial signalling of cell death. However, NO itself in low concentrations have protective action on mitochondrial signalling of cell death.
More details about various aspects of NO signalling can be obtained from the following references.
The post is based on the following Sources:
- http://content.karger.com/produktedb/produkte.asp?doi=338150Cardiology 2012;122:55-68 (DOI: 10.1159/000338150)
- http://content.onlinejacc.org/article.aspx?articleid=1137266 J Am Coll Cardiol. 2006;47(3):580-581. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2005.11.016
In addition, other aspects of NO involvement in biological systems in humans are covered in the following posts on this site: