The regulatory role of nitric oxide in apoptosis

Peter K.M. Kim*, Ruben Zamora, Patricia Petrosko, Timothy R. Billiar

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

347 Scopus citations


Nitric oxide (NO) is a multi-faceted molecule with dichotomous regulatory roles in many areas of biology. The complexity of its biological effects is a consequence of its numerous potential interactions with other molecules such as reactive oxygen species (ROS), metal ions, and proteins. The effects of NO are modulated by both direct and indirect interactions that can be dose-dependent and cell-type specific. For example, in some cell types NO can promote apoptosis, whereas in other cells NO inhibits apoptosis. In hepatocytes, NO can inhibit the main mediators of cell death - caspase proteases. Moreover, low physiological concentrations of NO can inhibit apoptosis, but higher concentrations of NO may be toxic. High NO concentrations lead to the formation of toxic reaction products like dinitrogen trioxide or peroxynitrite that induce cell death, if not by apoptosis, then by necrosis. Long-term exposure to nitric oxide in certain conditions like chronic inflammatory states may predispose cells to tumorigenesis through DNA damage, inhibition of DNA repair, alteration in programmed cell death, or activation of proliferative signaling pathways. Understanding the regulatory mechanisms of NO in apoptosis and carcinogenesis will provide important clues to the diagnosis and treatment of tissue damage and cancer. In this article we have reviewed recent discoveries in the regulatory role of NO in specific cell types, mechanisms of pro-apoptotic and anti-apoptotic induction by NO, and insights into the effects of NO on tumor biology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1421-1441
Number of pages21
JournalInternational Immunopharmacology
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Apoptosis
  • Nitric oxide
  • Regulatory role


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