During the past two decades, nitric oxide (NO) has been recognized as one of the most versatile players in the immune system. It is involved in the pathogenesis and control of infectious diseases, tumors, autoimmune processes and chronic degenerative diseases. Because of its variety of reaction partners (DNA, proteins, low–molecular weight thiols, prosthetic groups, reactive oxygen intermediates), its widespread production (by three different NO synthases (NOS) and the fact that its activity is strongly influenced by its concentration, NO continues to surprise and perplex immunologists. Today, there is no simple, uniform picture of the function of NO in the immune system. Protective and toxic effects of NO are frequently seen in parallel. Its striking inter- and intracellular signaling capacity makes it extremely difficult to predict the effect of NOS inhibitors and NO donors, which still hampers therapeutic applications.
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Supported by a grant from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (SFB263, A5). I thank C. Nathan, M. Röllinghoff, U. Schleicher and Y. Vodovotz for helpful comments and sharing preprints. I apologize to all authors whose original publications I could cite only indirectly by reference to review articles because of strict space limitations.
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