Metabolism and Excretion of Nitric Oxide in Humans: An Experimental and Clinical Study

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Despite the increasing insight in the clinical importance of nitric oxide (NO), formerly known as endothelium-derived relaxing factor (EDRF), there is limited information about the metabolism and elimination of this mediator in humans. We studied the degradation of NO in healthy subjects inhaling 25 ppm for 60 minutes and in patients with severe heart failure inhaling 20, 40, and 80 ppm in consecutive 10-minute periods. In other healthy subjects, the renal clearance of NO metabolite was measured. The metabolism ex vivo was evaluated by direct incubation of nitrite, the NO oxidation product, in blood from healthy humans. During inhalation of NO, the plasma levels of nitrate increased progressively, both in the healthy subjects (from 26 to 38 μmol/L, P<.001) and in the patients (from 72 to 90 μmol/L, P<.001). Methemoglobin (MetHb) also increased in the healthy subjects (from 7 to 13 μmol/L, P<.001) as well as in the patients (from 19 to 42 μmol/L, P<.01). No change in nitrosohemoglobin (HbNO) was detected, either in the healthy subjects or in the patients. In arterialized blood (O2 saturation, 94% to 99%), incubated nitrite was semiquantitatively converted to nitrate and MetHb. In venous blood (O2 saturation, 36% to 85%) moderate amounts of HbNO were also formed. Plasma and urinary clearance of nitrate in healthy subjects averaged 20 mL/min. We conclude that uptake into the red blood cells with subsequent conversion to nitrate and MetHb is a major metabolic pathway for endogenously formed NO. Nitrate may then enter the plasma to be eliminated via the kidneys. The occurrence of HbNO in vivo probably indicates liberation of NO to partly deoxygenated blood.

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