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Biological Chemistry

Editor-in-Chief: Brüne, Bernhard

Editorial Board Member: Buchner, Johannes / Ludwig, Stephan / Sies, Helmut / Turk, Boris / Wittinghofer, Alfred

12 Issues per year



Janus-faced role of endothelial NO synthase in vascular disease: uncoupling of oxygen reduction from NO synthesis and its pharmacological reversal

Ulrich Förstermann1


Citation Information: Biological Chemistry. Volume 387, Issue 12, Pages 1521–1533, ISSN (Online) 1437-4315, ISSN (Print) 1431-6730, DOI: 10.1515/BC.2006.190, November 2006

Publication History

Published Online:


Endothelial NO synthase (eNOS) is the predominant enzyme responsible for vascular NO synthesis. A functional eNOS transfers electrons from NADPH to its heme center, where L-arginine is oxidized to L-citrulline and NO. Common conditions predisposing to atherosclerosis, such as hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, diabetes mellitus and smoking, are associated with enhanced production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and reduced amounts of bioactive NO in the vessel wall. NADPH oxidases represent major sources of ROS in cardiovascular pathophysiology. NADPH oxidase-derived superoxide avidly interacts with eNOS-derived NO to form peroxynitrite (ONOO), which oxidizes the essential NOS cofactor (6R-)5,6,7,8-tetrahydrobiopterin (BH4). As a consequence, oxygen reduction uncouples from NO synthesis, thereby rendering NOS to a superoxide-producing pro-atherosclerotic enzyme. Supplementation with BH4 corrects eNOS dysfunction in several animal models and in patients. Administration of high local doses of the antioxidant L-ascorbic acid (vitamin C) improves endothelial function, whereas large-scale clinical trials do not support a strong role for oral vitamin C and/or E in reducing cardiovascular disease. Statins, angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors and AT1 receptor blockers have the potential of reducing vascular oxidative stress. Finally, novel approaches are being tested to block pathways leading to oxidative stress (e.g. protein kinase C) or to upregulate antioxidant enzymes.

Keywords: l-arginine; asymmetric dimethyl-l-arginine; NADPH oxidase; oxidative stress; (6R)-5,6,7,8-tetrahydrobiopterin

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