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To determine the role of nitric oxide (NO) in decompensated and irreversible hemorrhagic shock, rats were subjected to hemorrhagic shock (HS) for 3 or 5 h. Lung, liver, and plasma samples were studied for evidence of NO formation using Northern analysis and immunohistochemistry for Type II NOS, as well as measurement of plasma nitrite/nitrate, cyclic GMP, and nitrosylated hemoglobin levels. Comparisons were made with similarly instrumented time-matched sham rats. Type II NOS mRNA and protein were detectable in lung and liver only in the irreversible phase of HS (5 h). A large accumulation of nitrosylated hemoglobin and nitrite/nitrate appeared in the irreversible phase. Significant accumulation of cyclic GMP or nitrite/nitrate was not detectable in the decompensation phase. Despite the hemodynamic decompensation at 3 h of HS, Type II NOS mRNA and protein expression, as well as NO metabolites were not elevated. To assess whether NO plays a physiologically significant role in decompensation, rats in the decompensation phase and sham animals were subjected to nonspecific NOS inhibition. Both groups displayed a similar magnitude and duration of blood pressure elevation. Hemodynamic decompensation in HS is not mediated by Type II NOS induction. NO production increases only after prolonged HS; significant NO production is observed only in severe, irreversible HS.