The Vascular Endothelium I

Volume 176/I of the series Handbook of Experimental Pharmacology pp 213-254

Nitric Oxide and the Vascular Endothelium

  • S. MoncadaAffiliated withThe Wolfson Institute for Biomedical Research, University College London Email author 
  • , E. A. HiggsAffiliated withThe Wolfson Institute for Biomedical Research, University College London

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The vascular endothelium synthesises the vasodilator and anti-aggregatory mediator nitric oxide (NO) from L-arginine. This action is catalysed by the action of NO synthases, of which two forms are present in the endothelium. Endothelial (e)NOS is highly regulated, constitutively active and generates NO in response to shear stress and other physiological stimuli. Inducible (i)NOS is expressed in response to immunological stimuli, is transcriptionally regulated and, once activated, generates large amounts of NO that contribute to pathological conditions. The physiological actions of NO include the regulation of vascular tone and blood pressure, prevention of platelet aggregation and inhibition of vascular smooth muscle proliferation. Many of these actions are a result of the activation by NO of the soluble guanylate cyclase and consequent generation of cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP). An additional target of NO is the cytochrome c oxidase, the terminal enzyme in the electron transport chain, which is inhibited by NO in a manner that is reversible and competitive with oxygen. The consequent reduction of cytochrome c oxidase leads to the release of superoxide anion. This may be an NO-regulated cell signalling system which, under certain circumstances, may lead to the formation of the powerful oxidant species, peroxynitrite, that is associated with a variety of vascular diseases.


Nitric oxide eNOS Guanylate cyclase Cytochrome c oxidase Mitochondria Free radicals