Nitric oxide in inflammatory bowel disease: a universal messenger in an unsolved puzzle


Dr G. Kolios, University of Crete, Faculty of Medicine, PO Box 2208, Heraklion, Crete, GR-71003, Greece.


In recent years, nitric oxide (NO), a gas previously considered to be a potentially toxic chemical, has been established as a diffusible universal messenger that mediates cell–cell communication throughout the body. Constitutive and inducible NO production regulate numerous essential functions of the gastrointestinal mucosa, such as maintenance of adequate perfusion, regulation of microvascular and epithelial permeability, and regulation of the immune response. Up-regulation of the production of NO via expression of inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) represents part of a prompt intestinal antibacterial response; however, NO has also been associated with the initiation and maintenance of inflammation in human inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Recent studies on animal models of experimental IBD have shown that constitutive and inducible NO production seems to be beneficial during acute colitis, but sustained up-regulation of NO is detrimental. This fact is also supported by studies on mice genetically deficient in various NOS isoforms. However, the mechanism by which NO proceeds from being an indispensable homeostatic regulator to a harmful destructor remains unknown. Furthermore, extrapolation of data from animal colitis models to human IBD is questionable. The purpose of this review is to update our knowledge about the role of this universal mediator and the enzymes that generate it in the pathogenesis of IBD.