A colorless, poisonous gas produced as an intermediate compound during the manufacture of nitric acid from ammonia or from atmospheric nitrogen. It is also produced through cellular metabolism. In the body, nitric oxide is involved in oxygen transport to the tissues, the transmission of nerve impulses, and other physiological activities. Chemical formula: NO.
A Closer Look While nitric oxide (NO) was once regarded solely as a poisonous air pollutant, responsible for the formation of photochemical smog and acid rain leading to the destruction of the ozone layer, today it is also appreciated as a molecule essential to human health. Nitric oxide is the first gas discovered to act as a signaling molecule, a transmitter of important signals to cells in various systems of the human body. Even though NO continues to be detrimental to the environment, it was heralded as Science Magazine's Molecule of the Year in 1992, and the Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine was awarded in 1998 to the three scientists who discovered that NO works as a signaling molecule in the cardiovascular system. It is now known that the cells of a blood vessel's inner walls use NO to signal the vessel to relax and dilate, increasing blood flow. Nitroglycerin, whose effectiveness in treating heart problems was once a mystery, is now known to work by releasing NO. NO has a variety of other important biological functions, including destroying bacteria within the immune system and acting as a neurotransmitter.