Nitric Oxide, Superoxide, And Peroxynitrite: The Good, The Bad, And Ugly
Nitric oxide contrasts with most intercellular messengers because it diffuses rapidly and isotropically through most tissues with little reaction but cannot be transported through the vasculature due to rapid destruction by oxyhemoglobin. The rapid diffusion of nitric oxide between cells allows it to locally integrate the responses of blood vessels to turbulence, modulate synaptic plasticity in neurons, and control the oscillatory behavior of neuronal networks. Nitric oxide is not necessarily short lived and is intrinsically no more reactive than oxygen. The reactivity of nitric oxide per se has been greatly overestimated in vitro because no drain is provided to remove nitric oxide. Nitric oxide persists in solution for several minutes in micromolar concentrations before it reacts with oxygen to form much stronger oxidants like nitrogen dioxide. Nitric oxide is removed within seconds in vivo by diffusion over 100 microns through tissues to enter red blood cells and react with oxyhemoglobin. The direct toxicity of nitric oxide is modest but is greatly enhanced by reacting with superoxide to form peroxynitrite (ONOO-). Nitric oxide is the only biological molecule produced in high enough concentrations to out-compete superoxide dismutase for superoxide. Peroxynitrite reacts relatively slowly with most biological molecules, making peroxynitrite a selective oxidant. Peroxynitrite modifies tyrosine in proteins to create nitrotyrosines, leaving a footprint detectable in vivo. Nitration of structural proteins, including neurofilaments and actin, can disrupt filament assembly with major pathological consequences. Antibodies to nitrotyrosine have revealed nitration in human atherosclerosis, myocardial ischemia, septic and distressed lung, inflammatory bowel disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.