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The Emerging Role of Nitrite as an Endogenous Modulator and Therapeutic Agent of Cardiovascular Function

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Recently, the circulating anion nitrite (NO2 ¯ ), the largest physiological reservoir of nitric oxide (NO) in the body, has revealed itself as a signalling molecule mediating numerous biological responses. Since it was estimated that as much as 70% of plasma nitrite originates from nitric oxide synthases (NOSs), mainly in the endothelium by endothelial NOS, nitrite is considered an index of NOSs activity. Exogenous sources, principally environmental pollutants and intake of vegetables, also contribute to this NO reserve. In mammalian blood, nitrite, present at nanomolar concentrations, can be reduced to bioactive NO along a physiological oxygen and pH gradient either non-enzymatically (acidic disproportionation) or by a number of enzymes including xanthine oxidoreductase, NOS, mitochondrial cytochromes and deoxygenated haemoglobin and myoglobin. The various NO-dependent nitrite-induced biological responses include hypoxic vasodilation, inhibition of mitochondrial respiration, cytoprotection following ischemia/reperfusion, and regulation of protein and gene expression.

Since NO is a major paracrine-autocrine cardiovascular modulator and nitrite acts mainly as an endocrine store of NO, it is not surprising that NO2 ¯ exerts important cardiovascular actions both under normal and physio-pathological conditions.

In the interdisciplinary framework of the NO cycle concept, this review illustrates the actions exerted by nitrite on the cardiovascular system. Since the majority of the NO2 ¯ -oriented studies focused on the systemic and regional control of blood flow both under physiological and ischemia/reperfusion conditions, we will firstly consider this issue. Secondly, the nitrite- induced effects on myocardial contractile and relaxation processes will be discussed, emphasizing the biomedical interest of nitrite as a new therapeutic agent. The importance of cardiac myoglobin as nitrite-reductase able to exert cardioprotection through a novel function, in addition to its role as classical respiratory protein, will be highlighted. Finally, using recent data from others and our labs, we will emphasize the importance of fish and amphibian heart models with diverse morphologies and blood supply for providing remarkable insights on “ancestral” functions of the nitrite-NO system in vertebrates, which, in turn, may help to expand its actual significance in human physiology.

Keywords: Nitric Oxide; Nitrite; cardioprotection; myocardial performance; vasoreactivity

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Cell Biology, University of Calabria, 87030 Arcavacata di Rende (CS) Italy.

Publication date: 2010-06-01

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