Nitric Oxide and Carbon Monoxide as Neurotransmitters

Nitric oxide (NO) was the first gas to be identified as a neuro-transmitter. Produced by nitric oxide synthetase in the cells of many organs from the amino acid L-arginine, nitric oxide's actions are very different from those of the more familiar nitrous oxide (N2O), or laughing gas, sometimes used as a mild anesthetic in dentistry.

Nitric oxide has a number of different roles in the body. Within blood vessels, it acts as a local tissue regulator that causes the smooth muscles of those vessels to relax, so that the blood vessels dilate. This role will be described in conjunction with the circulatory system in chapter 14. Within macrophages and other cells, nitric oxide helps to kill bacteria. This activity is described in conjunction with the immune system in chapter 15. In addition, nitric oxide is a neurotransmitter of certain neurons in both the PNS and CNS. It diffuses out of the presynaptic axon and into neighboring cells by simply passing through the lipid portion of the cell membranes. Once in the target cells, NO exerts its effects by stimulating the production of cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP), which acts as a second messenger.

In the PNS, nitric oxide is released by some neurons that innervate the gastrointestinal tract, penis, respiratory passages, and cerebral blood vessels. These are autonomic neurons that cause smooth muscle relaxation in their target organs. This can produce, for example, the engorgement of the spongy tissue of the penis with blood. In fact, scientists now believe that erection of the penis results from the action of nitric oxide, and indeed the drug Viagra works by increasing this action of nitric oxide (as described in chapter 20; see fig. 20.23). Nitric oxide is also released as a neurotransmitter in the brain, and has been implicated in the processes of learning and memory. This will be discussed in more detail later in this chapter.

In addition to nitric oxide, another gas—carbon monoxide (CO)—may function as a neurotransmitter. Certain neurons, including those of the cerebellum and olfactory epithelium, have been shown to produce carbon monoxide (derived from the conversion of one pigment molecule, heme, to another, biliverdin; see fig. 18.23). Also, carbon monoxide, like nitric oxide, has been shown to stimulate the production of cGMP within the neurons. Experiments suggest that carbon monoxide may promote odor adaptation in olfactory neurons, contributing to the regulation of olfactory sensitivity. Other physiological functions of neuronal carbon monoxide have also been suggested, including neuroendocrine regulation in the hypothalamus.

Although its importance in the body was recognized only recently, nitric oxide has already been exploited for medical use. The hypotension (low blood pressure) of septic shock, for example, is apparently due to vasodilation caused by nitric oxide and has been successfully treated with drugs that inhibit nitric oxide synthetase. Conversely inhalation of nitric oxide has been used to treat pulmonary hypertension, as well as respiratory distress syndrome (discussed in chapter 16).

Test Yourself Before You Continue

1. Explain the significance of glutamate in the brain and of NMDA receptors.

2. Describe the mechanism of action of glycine and GABA as neurotransmitters and discuss their significance.

3. Give examples of endogenous opioid polypeptides and discuss their significance.

4. Explain how nitric acid is produced in the body and describe its functions.

Fox: Human Physiology, Eighth Edition

7. The Nervous System: Neurons and Synapses


© The McGraw-H Companies, 2003

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  • welde aatifa
    How does nitric oxide and carbon monoxide work as a nuerotransmitter?
    8 years ago
    Is nitric oxide released from the pns?
    8 years ago
  • Simone
    What is the function of carbon monoxide as a neurotransmiter?
    8 years ago
  • daniel reinhard
    Is carbon monoxide a neurotransmitter in the brain.?
    8 years ago
  • jens
    How are nitric oxide & carbon oxide used by the body?
    8 years ago
  • samppa
    How can nitric oxide and carbon monoxide be used in the body?
    8 years ago
  • Alfreda
    Where is the neurotransmitter nitrous oxide in the human body?
    8 years ago
  • Tomba
    How can Nitrous oxide and Carbon monoxide be used by the body?
    7 years ago
    Is nitric oxide the only neurotransmitter that is a gas?
    7 years ago
  • Tekle
    What is function of carbon monoxide as a neurotransmitter?
    6 years ago
  • william
    What cause carbon monoxide in human body?
    6 years ago
  • ambrogio
    Is carbon monoxide acidic in the body?
    6 years ago
    Is carbon dioxide a neurotransmitter?
    5 years ago
  • isembold
    Can nitric oxide and carbon monoxide act as neurotransmitters?
    5 years ago
  • oili p
    What nitric oxide and carbon monoxide differ from other neurotransmitters?
    4 years ago
    How nitric oxide and carbondioxide act on neurotransmitter?
    4 years ago
  • alistair
    Is Carbon monoxide a excitatory neurotrasmitter?
    1 year ago
  • ali
    What is carbon monoxides function as a neurotransmitter?
    1 year ago
  • florian
    Is nitrogen monoxide a "neuro transmitter"?
    1 year ago
  • Oona
    How is cARBON MONoXIDE a neurotrnsmitter?
    4 months ago
  • tom
    Can nitric oxide and carbon monoxide be found in the human body normally?
    2 months ago

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