Nitrovasodilators relax vascular smooth muscle by stimulating guanylate cyclase. Ignarro et al. (1981) proposed a mechanistic scheme according to which organic nitrates release nitrite in the presence of thiols. The corresponding nitrous acid would decay leading to nitric oxide, which then would react with another thiol to nitrosothiol. Dose-response relations with regard to guanylate cyclase stimulation of organic nitrates and sodium nitrite were compared in the presence of cysteine and its closely related methylester. Nitrite formation from ED95 concentrations of organic nitrates was also measured and compared with that present under an equi-effective concentration of sodium nitrite. In addition, the proposed formation of nitrosothiol from nitric oxide was re-examined. In the presence of cysteine, organic nitrates as well as sodium nitrite stimulated guanylate cyclase, but nitrite formation under ED95 concentrations of organic nitrates was 1000-fold smaller than that present under an equi-effective concentration of sodium nitrite. In the presence of cysteinemethylester, liberation of nitrite from organic nitrates was similar but no stimulation of guanylate cyclase was obtained. Sodium nitrite, however, showed a stimulating activity similar to that in the presence of cysteine. These results clearly demonstrate that guanylate cyclase stimulation by organic nitrates is not mediated by nitrite and subsequent formation of nitrosothiol. Since nitrous acid did not decay to nitric oxide in the pH range studied, the formation of nitrosothiol is apparently due to a direct reaction of nitrous acid with thiol.
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