Nitric oxide (NO) was discovered as an endothelium‐derived relaxing factor more than two decades ago. Since then, it has been shown to participate in many pathways. NO has been described as a key mediator of different pathways in the central nervous system (CNS) in both healthy and diseased processes. The three isoforms of nitric oxide synthase differ in their activity patterns and expression in different cells. Neuronal nitric oxide synthase (nNOS) is localized in synaptic spines, astrocytes, and the loose connective tissue surrounding blood vessels in the brain; eNOS is present in both cerebral vascular endothelial cells and motor neurons; and iNOS is induced in astrocytes and microglia under pathological conditions. During physiological processes, NO produced by eNOS/nNOS, respectively, controls blood flow activation, and act as a messenger during long‐term potentiation (LTP). However, under pathological conditions, eNOS appears to be impaired, leading to a reduction in blood flow and, consequently, low oxygen/metabolites delivery, efflux of toxicological agents from the brain tissue and disturbance in the blood‐brain barrier. The NO produced by iNOS in glial cells and nNOS, which triggers the NMDA‐excitotoxic pathway, combines with superoxide anion and results in peroxynitrite synthesis, a potent free radical that contributes to tissue damage in the brain. Here, we intend to show the controversial role of the nitric oxide delivered by the three isoforms of the nitric oxide synthase in the CNS, assess its impact under healthy/pathological conditions and speculate on its possible sequela, particularly in long‐term cognitive decline.
Part of the book: Nitric Oxide Synthase