Expansion on the Recent Discoveries Concerning Nitric Oxide as presented by Dr. Jack R. Lancaster Nitric Oxide, or NO, its chemical representation, was until recently not considered to be of any benefit to the life processes of animals, much less human beings. However, studies have proven that this simple compound had an abundance of uses in the body, ranging from the nervous system to the reproductive system. Its many uses are still being explored, and it is hoped that it can play an active role in the cures for certain types of cancers and tumors that form in the brain and other parts of the body. Nitric Oxide is not to be confused with nitrous oxide, the latter of which is commonly known as laughing gas.
Nitric oxide has one more electron than the anesthetic. NO is not soluble in water. It is a clear gas. When NO is exposed to air, it mixes with oxygen, yielding nitrogen IV dioxide, a brown gas which is soluble in water. These are just a few of the chemical properties of nitric oxide.
With the total life expectancy of nitric oxide being from six to ten seconds, it is not surprising that it has not been until recently that it was discovered in the body. The compound is quickly converted into nitrates and nitrites by oxygen and water. Yet even its short-lived life, it has found many functions within the body. Nitric oxide enables white blood cells to kill tumor cells and bacteria, and it allows neurotransmitters to dilate blood vessels. Ital so serves as a messenger for neurons, like a neurotransmitter. The compound is also accountable for penile erections.
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Further experiments may lead to it suse in memory research and for the treatment of certain. One of the most exciting discoveries of nitric oxide involves its function in the brain. It was first discovered that nitric oxide played a role in the nervous system in 1982. Small amounts of it prove useful in the opening of calcium ion channels (with glutamate, an neurotransmitter) sending a strong impulse. However, in larger amounts, its effects are quite harmful. The channels are forced to fire more rapidly, which can kill the cells.
This is the cause of most strokes. To find where nitric oxide is found in the brain, scientists used a purification method from a tissue sample of the brain. One scientist discovered that the synthesis of nitric oxide required the presence of calcium, which often acts by binding to a ubiquitous co factor. A small amount of is added to the enzyme preparations, and immediately there is an enhancement in enzyme activity. Recognition of the association between nitric oxide, calcium an leads to further purification of the enzyme. When glutamate moves the calcium into cells, the calcium ions bind to and activate nitric oxide, all of these activities happening within a few thousandths of a second.
After this purification is made, antibodies can be made against it, and nitric oxide can be traced in the rest of the brain and other parts of the body. The nitric oxide can be found only in small populations of neurons, mostly in the hypothalamus part of the brain. The hypothalamus is the controller of enzyme secretion, and controls the release of the and oxytocin. In the adrenal gland, the nitric oxide is highly concentrated in a web of neurons that stimulate adrenal cells to release adrenaline. It is also found in the intestine, cerebral cortex, and in the endothelial layer of blood vessels, yet to a smaller degree.
Although the location of nitric oxide was found by this experimentation, it wasn’t until later that the function of the nitric oxide was studied. Its tie to other closely related neurons did shed some light on this. In Huntington’s disease up to ninety-five percent of neurons in an area called the caudate nucleus degenerate, but no neurons are lost. In heart strokes and in some brain regions in which there is involvement of Alzheimer’s disease, neurons are similarly resistant. Neurotoxic destruction of neurons in culture can kill ninety percent of neurons, whereas neurons remain completely unharmed. Scientists studied the perplexity of this issue.
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Discerning the overlap between neurons and cerebral neurons containing nitric oxide was a good start to their goal. First of all, it was clear that there was something about nitric oxide synthesis that makes neurons resist damage. Yet, NO was the result of glutamate activity, which also led to neuro toxicity. The question aroused here is, how could it go both ways? One supported theory is that in the presence of high levels of glutamate, nitric oxide-producing neurons behave like macrophages, releasing lethal amounts of nitric oxide.
It is then assumed that inhibitors of nitric oxide prevent the neuro toxicity. The neuro toxicity of cerebral cortical neurons were studied to test this theory. NMDA is added to the cultures from the brain cells of rats. One day after being exposed to the NMDA for only five minutes, up to ninety percent of the neurons were dead. This reveals the neuro toxicity that occurs in vascular strokes. It is found through these experiments that nitro arginine, which is a very powerful and selective inhibitor of nitric oxide, completely prevents the neuro toxicity given from the NMDA.
Removing the arginine from the mixture protects the cells. Also, homo globin, which binds with and inactivates nitric oxide, also acts as an inhibitor to the harmful effects of neuro toxicity. The findings of these experiments led to further tests with a direct exposure of lab rats to the nitric oxide. Because NMDA antagonists can block the damage caused from the glutamate associated with heart strokes, it is questioned whether nitric oxide has the ability to modulate the destruction caused by the stroke. In an experiment performed by Bernard Scat ton in Paris, lab rats were injected with small doses of nitro arginine immediately after initiating a stroke on the rats. The nitro arginine reduced stroke damage by seventy-three percent.
This fantastic find proves that there is hope in the evolution and search for cures for vascular strokes. Nitric oxide may also be involved in memory and learning. Memory involves long-term increases or decreases in transmission across certain synapses after the repetitive stimulation of neurons. They then can detect persistent increases or decreases in synaptic transmission.
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The role of nitric oxide in these processes. The effects of nitric oxide were studied in hippocampus, which is the area of the brain that controls the memory. Due to its many influences, however, further study is needed to determine exactly what role nitric oxide plays in the memory. Scientists have high hopes for the further investigations of nitric oxide. More experiments lead to greater knowledge, and the effects of this knowledge are receiving a warm reception in this day and age of medicine. The knowledge gained by the study of nitric oxide is hoped to lead to cures and better fighting agents for cancers, tumors, strokes, memory loss, as well as other brain diseases, sensory deprivation, intestinal activity, and various other biological conditions that are affected by neuro transmission.
It is amazing already the breakthroughs that have surfaced within the past six years concerning the study of nitric oxide, and its further study is excitedly underway.