Nitric oxide and synaptic function
The free radical gas nitric oxide (NO) is a recently identified neuronal messenger that carries out diverse signaling tasks in both the central and peripheral nervous systems. Whereas most neurotransmitters are packaged in synaptic vesicles and secreted in a Ca2+-dependent manner from specialized nerve endings, NO is an unconventional transmitter which is not packaged in vesicles, but rather diffuses from its site of production in the absence of any specialized release machinery. The lack of a requirement for release apparatus raises the possibility that NO can be released from both pre- and postsynaptic neuronal elements. In addition, because NO is gaseous and extremely membrane permeant, it can bypass normal signal transduction routes involving interactions with synaptic membrane receptors. Although the targets of NO have not yet been completely described, it is known that NO can bind to the iron contained in heine groups, leading to conformational changes in associated proteins, such as guanylyl cyclase.
"Reprinted, with permission, from the Annual Review of Neuroscience, Volume 17 copyright 1994 by Annual Reviews, www.annualreviews.org"