Medical Definition of Nitric oxide

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Nitric oxide: A compound that is toxic but which, paradoxically, plays a number of important roles in the body, including the following:

  • It acts as a vasodilator (blood vessel relaxant).
  • It therefore controls blood flow to tissues.
  • It regulates the binding and release of oxygen to hemoglobin.
  • It thereby controls the supply of oxygen to mitochondria (cell powerhouses that generate energy).
  • It kills parasitic organisms, virus-infected cells, and tumor cells (by inactivating respiratory chain enzymes in their mitochondria).
  • It stimulates the production of new mitochondria.

The 1998 Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology was awarded to Robert F. Furchgott, Ferid Murad, and Louis J. Ignarro for their discoveries of the role of nitric oxide in cardiovascular physiology.

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Last Editorial Review: 1/25/2017

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