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Endothelial nitric oxide synthase

Nitric oxide (NO) is produced by many cells in the body; however, its production by vascular endothelium is particularly important in the regulation of blood flow. Because of its importance in vascular function, abnormal production of NO, as occurs in different disease states, can adversely affect blood flow and other vascular functions.

NO is produced from the amino acid L-arginine by the enzymatic action of nitric oxide synthase (NOS). There are two endothelial forms of NOS: constitutive NOS (cNOS; type III) and inducible NOS (iNOS; type II). Co-factors for NOS include oxygen, NADPH, tetrahydrobiopterin and flavin adenine nucleotides. In addition to endothelial NOS, there is a neural NOS (nNOS; type I) that serves as a transmitter in the brain and in different nerves of the peripheral nervous system, such as non-adrenergic, non-cholinergic (NANC) autonomic nerves that innervate penile erectile tissues and other specialized tissues in the body to produce vasodilation.

Under normal, basal conditions in blood vessels, NO is continually being produced by cNOS. The activity of cNOS is calcium- and calmodulin-dependent. There are two basic pathways for the stimulation of cNOS, both of which involve release of calcium ions from subsarcolemmal storage sites. First, shearing forces acting on the vascular endothelium generated by blood flow causes a release of calcium and subsequent cNOS activation. Therefore, increases in blood flow stimulate NO formation (flow-dependent NO formation). Second, endothelial receptors for a variety of ligands stimulate calcium release and subsequent NO production (receptor-stimulated NO formation). Included are receptors for acetylcholine, bradykinin, substance-P, adenosine, and many others vasoactive substances. In the late 1970s, Dr. Robert Furchgott observed that acetylcholine released a substance that produced vascular relaxation, but only when the endothelium was intact. This observation opened this field of research and eventually led to his receiving a Nobel prize. Initially, Furchgott called this substance endothelium-derived relaxing factor (EDRF), but by the mid-1980 he and others identified this substance as being NO.

The other isoform of endothelial NOS is iNOS. It differs, in part, from cNOS in that its activation is calcium independent. Under normal, basal conditions, the activity of iNOS is very low. The activity of iNOS is stimulated during inflammation by bacterial endotoxins (e.g., lipopolysaccharide) and cytokines such as tumor necrosis factor (TNF) and interleukins. During inflammation, the amount of NO produced by iNOS may be a 1, 000-fold greater than that produced by cNOS.

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