Treatments in Respiratory Medicine

, Volume 3, Issue 2, pp 79–88

Nitric Oxide Synthase Inhibition

Therapeutic Potential in Asthma
Leading Article

DOI: 10.2165/00151829-200403020-00002

Cite this article as:
Mulrennan, S.A. & Redington, A.E. Treat Respir Med (2004) 3: 79. doi:10.2165/00151829-200403020-00002


Nitric oxide (NO) is synthesized from L-arginine in the human respiratory tract by enzymes of the NO synthase (NOS) family. Levels of NO in exhaled air are increased in asthma, and measurement of exhaled NO has been advocated as a noninvasive tool to monitor the underlying inflammatory process. However, the relation of NO to disease pathophysiology is uncertain, and in particular the fundamental question of whether it should be viewed primarily as beneficial or harmful remains unanswered. Exogenously administered NO has both bronchodilator and bronchoprotective properties. Although it is unlikely that NO is an important regulator of basal airway tone, there is good evidence that endogenous NO release exerts a protective effect against various bronchoconstrictor stimuli. This response is thought to involve one or both of the constitutive NOS isoforms, endothelial NOS (eNOS) and neuronal NOS (nNOS). Therefore, inhibition of these enzymes is unlikely to be therapeutically useful in asthma and indeed may worsen disease control. On the other hand, the high concentrations of NO in asthma, which are believed to reflect upregulation of inducible NOS (iNOS) by proinflammatory cytokines, may produce various deleterious effects. These include increased vascular permeability, damage to the airway epithelium, and promotion of inflammatory cell infiltration. However, the possible effects of iNOS inhibition on allergic inflammation in asthma have not yet been described and studies in animal models have yielded inconsistent findings. Thus, the evidence to suggest that inhibition of iNOS would be a useful therapeutic strategy in asthma is limited at present. More definitive information will require studies combining agents that potently and specifically target individual NOS isoforms with direct measurement of inflammatory markers.

Copyright information

© Adis Data Information BV 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Academic Medicine, Postgraduate Medical InstituteUniversity of HullHullEngland
  2. 2.Department of MedicineCastle Hill HospitalCottinghamEngland