Nitric oxide in experimental joint inflammation: Benefit or detriment?

Sharon M. Wahl, N. McCartney-Francis, J. Chan, R. Dionne, L. Ta, J. M. Orenstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


The host response to infection or injury initiates a cascade of events involving recruitment of leukocytes and the release of multiple inflammatory mediators. One of these mediators, nitric oxide (NO), not only represents an important microbicidal agent in host defense, but also functions as a biological signaling and effector molecule in inflammation and immunity. However, overproduction of NO can be autotoxic and contribute to tissue damage and has been implicated in pathogenesis of tumors, and infectious, autoimmune and chronic degenerative diseases. NO is generated via constitutive and inducible nitric oxide synthases (iNOS) which catalyze the oxidation of a guanidino nitrogen associated with L-arginine. Whereas endothelial NOS (eNOS) and neuronal NOS (nNOS) are constitutively expressed, iNOS is transcriptionally induced by bacterial constituents and inflammatory mediators, including TNFα and IL-1. In an experimental model of bacterial component-induced joint inflammation and tissue degradation, functionally distinct roles of the constitutive NOS and iNOS were demonstrated. Following systemic delivery of an arthritogenic dose of streptococcal cell walls (SCW), these bacterial peptidoglycan-polysaccharide complexes disseminate and target the peripheral joints, liver and spleen of the treated animals. Following deposition of the SCW in the peripheral joints, an initial innate inflammatory response to the bacterial components progresses into an adaptive immune response with the recruitment and activation of mononuclear phagocytes and T lymphocytes. With the release of cytokines and inflammatory mediators, there is an upregulation of gene expression for iNOS, but not the constitutive nNOS or eNOS. Nonetheless, the constitutive NOS isoforms, regulated by calcium fluxes and interaction with calmodulin, may also enhance NO production. Increased release of NO was detected not only in the synovium, but also in the circulation, and plasma levels of nitrate plus nitrite, the stable products of NO reactions, correlated with disease progression. Following inhibition of NO production with nonspecific NOS inhibitors, such as NG-monomethyl-L-arginine, which target all three isoforms, there is a striking therapeutic benefit with reduced signs and symptoms of erosive arthritis. In contrast, selective targeting of iNOS with N-iminoethyl-L-lysine resulted in exacerbation of the synovial inflammation and degradation of joint structures. Based on these data, it appears that the constitutive isoforms of NOS contribute to the pathophysiology of the arthropathy, and that induced NOS and NO may function, in part, in a protective pathway. Moreover, the suppression of NO following treatment with TNFα antagonists results in reduced inflammation and the associated synovial pathology. Collectively, these data implicate discrete roles for the NOS isoforms in the emergence of local tissue pathology and underscore the need to define the specific pathways that are being targeted for interventional strategies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)26-33
Number of pages8
JournalCells Tissues Organs
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - 2003


  • Arthritis
  • Inflammation
  • Nitric oxide
  • Temporomandibular joint disorder
  • Tumor necrosis factor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Histology


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