Nitric oxide in cell survival: A Janus molecule

Vittorio Calabrese, Carolin Cornelius, Enrico Rizzarelli, Joshua B. Owen, Albena T. Dinkova-Kostova, D. Allan Butterfield

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

164 Scopus citations


Nitric oxide (NO), plays multiple roles in the nervous system. In addition to regulating proliferation, survival and differentiation of neurons, NO is involved in synaptic activity, neural plasticity, and memory function. Nitric oxide promotes survival and differentiation of neural cells and exerts long-lasting effects through regulation of transcription factors and modulation of gene expression. Signaling by reactive nitrogen species is carried out mainly by targeted modifications of critical cysteine residues in proteins, including S-nitrosylation and S-oxidation, as well as by lipid nitration. NO and other reactive nitrogen species are also involved in neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration, such as in Alzheimer disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Parkinson disease, multiple sclerosis, Friedreich ataxia, and Huntington disease. Susceptibility to NO and peroxynitrite exposure may depend on factors such as the intracellular reduced glutathione and cellular stress resistance signaling pathways. Thus, neurons, in contrast to astrocytes, appear particularly vulnerable to the effects of nitrosative stress. This article reviews the current understanding of the cytotoxic versus cytoprotective effects of NO in the central nervous system, highlighting the Janus-faced properties of this small molecule. The significance of NO in redox signaling and modulation of the adaptive cellular stress responses and its exciting future perspectives also are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2717-2739
Number of pages23
JournalAntioxidants and Redox Signaling
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology


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