Nitrite (NO2-) functions as an important nitric oxide (NO) donor under hypoxic conditions.Both nitrite and NO have been found to protect the mammalian heart and other tissues against ischemia(anoxia)-reoxygenation injury by interacting with mitochondrial electron transport complexes and limiting the generation of reactive oxygen species upon reoxygenation. The crucian carp naturally survives extended periods without oxygen in an active state, which has made it a model for studying how evolution has solved the problems of anoxic survival. We investigated the role of nitrite and NO in the anoxia-tolerance of this fish by measuring NO metabolites in normoxic, anoxic and reoxygenated crucian carp. We also cloned and sequenced crucian carp NO synthase variants and quantified their mRNA levels in several tissues in normoxia and anoxia. Despite falling levels of blood plasma nitrite, the crucian carp showed massive increases in nitrite, S-nitrosothiols (SNO) and iron-nitrosyl (FeNO) compounds in anoxic heart tissue. Nitrite levels were maintained in anoxic brain, liver and gill tissues, whereas SNO and FeNO increased in a tissue-specific manner. Reoxygenation reestablished normoxic values. We conclude that nitrite is shifted into the tissues where it acts as NO donor during anoxia, inducing cytoprotection under anoxia/reoxygenation. This can be especially important in the crucian carp heart, which maintains output in anoxia. Nitrite is currently tested as a therapeutic drug against reperfusion damage of ischemic hearts, and the present study provides evolutionary precedent for such an approach.
American Journal of Physiology: Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, 2012, Vol 302