Extrapulmonary effects of inhaled nitric oxide: Role of reversible S-nitrosylation of erythrocytic hemoglobin

Timothy J. McMahon, Allan Doctor

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Early applications of inhaled nitric oxide (iNO), typically in the treatment of diseases marked by acute pulmonary hypertension, were met by great enthusiasm regarding the purported specificity of iNO: vasodilation by iNO was specific to the lung (without a change in systemic vascular resistance), and within the lung, NO activity was said to be confined spatially and temporally by Hb within the vascular lumen. Underlying these claims were classical views of NO as a short-lived paracrine hormone that acts largely through the heme groups of soluble guanylate cyclase, and whose potential activity is terminated on encountering the hemes of red blood cell (RBC) Hb. These classical views are yielding to a broader paradigm, in which NO-related signaling is achieved through redox-related NO adducts that endow NO synthase products with the ability to act at a distance in space and time from NOsynthase itself. Evidence supporting the biological importance of such stable NO adducts is probably strongest for S-nitrosothiols (SNOs), in which NO binds to critical cysteine residues in proteins or peptides. The circulating RBC is a major SNO reservoir, and RBC Hb releases SNO-related bioactivity peripherally on O2 desaturation. These new paradigms describingNOtransport also provide a plausible mechanistic understanding of the increasingly recognized peripheral effects of inhaled NO. An explanation for the peripheral actions of inhaled NO is discussed here, and the rationale and results of attempts to exploit the "NO delivery" function of the RBC are reviewed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)153-160
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the American Thoracic Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2006


  • Hemoglobin
  • Nitric oxide
  • Red blood cell
  • S-nitrosohemoglobin
  • S-nitrosothiol


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