Posts Tagged ‘S-nitrosylation’

S-nitrosylation signaling

Author and Curator: Larry H Bernstein, MD, FCAP


S-nitrosylation signaling in cell biology.

Gaston BM1, Carver J, Doctor A, Palmer LA

Mol Interv. 2003 Aug; 3(5): 253-63  PMID: 14993439


S-Nitrosylated proteins form

  1. when a cysteine thiol reacts with nitric oxide (NO) in the presence of an electron acceptor to form an S-NO bond.
  2. Under physiological conditions, this posttranslational modification affects the function a wide array of cell proteins, ranging from ion channels to nuclear regulatory proteins.

Recent evidence suggests that

1) S-nitrosylated proteins can be synthesized by exposure of specific redox-active motifs to NO,

  • through transnitrosation/transfer reactions, or
  • through metalloprotein-catalyzed reactions;

2) S-nitrosothiols can be sequestered in

  • membranes,
  • lipophilic protein folds, or
  • in vesicles to preserve their activity; and

3) S-nitrosothiols can be degraded by a number of enzymes systems.

These recent insights regarding the

  1. bioactivities,
  2. molecular signaling pathways, and
  3. metabolism of endogenous S-nitrosothiols

have suggested several new therapies for disease ranging from cystic fibrosis to pulmonary hypertension.


Key pathways involving NO

Key pathways involving NO



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Author and Curator: Ritu Saxena, Ph.D.



Nitric oxide (NO) is a lipophilic, highly diffusible and short-lived molecule that acts as a physiological messenger and has been known to regulate a variety of important physiological responses including vasodilation, respiration, cell migration, immune response and apoptosis. Jordi Muntané et al

NO is synthesized by the Nitric Oxide synthase (NOS) enzyme and the enzyme is encoded in three different forms in mammals: neuronal NOS (nNOS or NOS-1), inducible NOS (iNOS or NOS-2), and endothelial NOS (eNOS or NOS-3). The three isoforms, although similar in structure and catalytic function, differ in the way their activity and synthesis in controlled inside a cell. NOS-2, for example is induced in response to inflammatory stimuli, while NOS-1 and NOS-3 are constitutively expressed.

Regulation by Nitric oxide

NO is a versatile signaling molecule and the net effect of NO on gene regulation is variable and ranges from activation to inhibition of transcription.

The intracellular localization is relevant for the activity of NOS. Infact, NOSs are subject to specific targeting to subcellular compartments (plasma membrane, Golgi, cytosol, nucleus and mitochondria) and that this trafficking is crucial for NO production and specific post-translational modifications of target proteins.

Role of Nitric oxide in Cancer

One in four cases of cancer worldwide are a result of chronic inflammation. An inflammatory response causes high levels of activated macrophages. Macrophage activation, in turn, leads to the induction of iNOS gene that results in the generation of large amount of NO. The expression of iNOS induced by inflammatory stimuli coupled with the constitutive expression of nNOS and eNOS may contribute to increased cancer risk. NO can have varied roles in the tumor environment influencing DNA repair, cell cycle, and apoptosis. It can result in antagonistic actions including DNA damage and protection from cytotoxicity, inhibiting and stimulation cell proliferation, and being both anti-apoptotic and pro-apoptotic. Genotoxicity due to high levels of NO could be through direct modification of DNA (nitrosative deamination of nucleic acid bases, transition and/or transversion of nucleic acids, alkylation and DNA strand breakage) and inhibition of DNA repair enzymes (such as alkyltransferase and DNA ligase) through direct or indirect mechanisms. The Multiple actions of NO are probably the result of its chemical (post-translational modifications) and biological heterogeneity (cellular production, consumption and responses). Post-translational modifications of proteins by nitration, nitrosation, phosphorylation, acetylation or polyADP-ribosylation could lead to an increase in the cancer risk. This process can drive carcinogenesis by altering targets and pathways that are crucial for cancer progression much faster than would otherwise occur in healthy tissue.

NO can have several effects even within the tumor microenvironment where it could originate from several cell types including cancer cells, host cells, tumor endothelial cells. Tumor-derived NO could have several functional roles. It can affect cancer progression by augmenting cancer cell proliferation and invasiveness. Infact, it has been proposed that NO promotes tumor growth by regulating blood flow and maintaining the vasodilated tumor microenvironment. NO can stimulate angiogenesis and can also promote metastasis by increasing vascular permeability and upregulating matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs). MMPs have been associated with several functions including cell proliferation, migration, adhesion, differentiation, angiogenesis and so on. Recently, it was reported that metastatic tumor-released NO might impair the immune system, which enables them to escape the immunosurveillance mechanism of cells. Molecular regulation of tumour angiogenesis by nitric oxide.

S-nitrosylation and Cancer

The most prominent and recognized NO reaction with thiols groups of cysteine residues is called S-nitrosylation or S-nitrosation, which leads to the formation of more stable nitrosothiols. High concentrations of intracellular NO can result in high concentrations of S-nitrosylated proteins and dysregulated S-nitrosylation has been implicated in cancer. Oxidative and nitrosative stress is sensed and closely associated with transcriptional regulation of multiple target genes.

Following are a few proteins that are modified via NO and modification of these proteins, in turn, has been known to play direct or indirect roles in cancer.

NO mediated aberrant proteins in Cancer


Bcl-2 is an important anti-apoptotic protein. It works by inhibiting mitochondrial Cytochrome C that is released in response to apoptotic stimuli. In a variety of tumors, Bcl-2 has been shown to be upregulated, and it has additionally been implicated with cancer chemo-resistance through dysregulation of apoptosis. NO exposure causes S-nitrosylation at the two cysteine residues – Cys158 and Cys229 that prevents ubiquitin-proteasomal pathway mediated degradation of the protein. Once prevented from degradation, the protein attenuates its anti-apoptotic effects in cancer progression. The S-nitrosylation based modification of Bcl-2 has been observed to be relevant in drug treatment studies (for eg. Cisplatin). Thus, the impairment of S-nitrosylated Bcl-2 proteins might serve as an effective therapeutic target to decrease cancer-drug resistance.


p53 has been well documented as a tumor suppressor protein and acts as a major player in response to DNA damage and other genomic alterations within the cell. The activation of p53 can lead to cell cycle arrest and DNA repair, however, in case of irrepairable DNA damage, p53 can lead to apoptosis. Nuclear p53 accumulation has been related to NO-mediated anti-tumoral properties. High concentration of NO has been found to cause conformational changes in p53 resulting in biological dysfunction.. In RAW264.7, a murine macrophage cell line, NO donors induce p53 accumulation and apoptosis through JNK-1/2.


Hypoxia-inducible factor 1 (HIF1) is a heterodimeric transcription factor that is predominantly active under hypoxic conditions because the HIF-1a subunit is rapidly degraded in normoxic conditions by proteasomal degradation. It regulates the transciption of several genes including those involved in angiogenesis, cell cycle, cell metabolism, and apoptosis. Hypoxic conditions within the tumor can lead to overexpression of HIF-1a. Similar to hypoxia-mediated stress, nitrosative stress can stabilize HIF-1a. NO derivatives have also been shown to participate in hypoxia signaling. Resistance to radiotherapy has been traced back to NO-mediated HIF-1a in solid tumors in some cases.


Phosphatase and tensin homolog deleted on chromosome ten (PTEN), is again a tumor suppressor protein. It is a phosphatase and has been implicated in many human cancers. PTEN is a crucial negative regulator of PI3K/Akt signaling pathway. Over-activation of PI3K/Akt mediated signaling pathway is known to play a major role in tumorigenesis and angiogenesis. S-nitrosylation of PTEN, that could be a result of NO stress, inhibits PTEN. Inhibition of PTEN phosphatase activity, in turn, leads to promotion of angiogenesis.


C-src belongs to the Src family of protein tyrosine kinases and has been implicated in the promotion of cancer cell invasion and metastasis. It was demonstrated that S-nitrosylation of c-Src at cysteine 498 enhanced its kinase activity, thus, resulting in the enhancement of cancer cell invasion and metastasis.


Muntané J and la Mata MD. Nitric oxide and cancer. World J Hepatol. 2010 Sep 27;2(9):337-44.

Wang Z. Protein S-nitrosylation and cancer. Cancer Lett. 2012 Jul 28;320(2):123-9.

Ziche M and Morbidelli L. Molecular regulation of tumour angiogenesis by nitric oxide. Eur Cytokine Netw. 2009 Dec;20(4):164-70.

Jaiswal M, et al. Nitric oxide in gastrointestinal epithelial cell carcinogenesis: linking inflammation to oncogenesis. Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2001 Sep;281(3):G626-34.

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Curator/ Author: Aviral Vatsa, PhD, MBBS

In continuation with the previous posts that dealt with short history and chemistry of nitric oxide (NO), here I will try to highlight the pathways involved in NO chemical signalling.

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):

  1. 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.
  2. 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 .
  3. 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:

  2. 2012;122:55-68 (DOI: 10.1159/000338150)
  3. 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:

  1. Nitric Oxide and Platelet Aggregation
  2. Inhaled NO in Pulmonary Artery Hypertension and Right Sided Heart Failure
  3. Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) and the Role of agent alternatives in endothelial Nitric Oxide Synthase (eNOS) Activation and Nitric Oxide Production
  4. Nitric Oxide in bone metabolism

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