Nitric oxide is probably one of the most important signaling molecules in our body. Its effect is far-reaching from regulating blood pressure and preventing diseases to dramatically stimulating stem cells. Nitric oxide (NO) is an important molecule that affects gene expression at the level of transcription and translation and regulates cell survival and proliferation in diverse cell types. We know that low levels of NO is a very early marker of chronic disease and are associated with a variety of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and general poor health. Many lifestyle and dietary habits that lead to chronic disease also reduce the production of NO. Lifestyle habits such as; lack of exercise, nicotine use, a poor diet, excessive alcohol consumption and many pharmaceutical medications.
The discovery that this simple gaseous molecule performs so many essential biological and physiological functions established a new paradigm in cell signaling. Cell signaling is critical in understanding stem cell science. Cell signaling is responsible for the intercellular communication system of the body.
The important aspect of cell signaling involves cytokines which work as immunomodulation agents. Cytokines include among other things chemokines and interleukins all of which are growth factors typically produced by stem cells, platelets and various immune cells. Once released cytokines will have an effect on the environment around them.
Cytokines will directly affect the immune system, causing inflammation or closing it down. Mesenchymal stem cells are immune modulators which can slow down or shut down the inflammatory response caused by many different conditions. Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) originate from the connective tissue or stroma around your body’s organs and tissues. Nitric oxide works with MSCs and macrophages to prime the stem cell environment for stem cell repair. NO plays a crucial role in stem cell function and operates similarly to mesenchymal cells in that it can cause certain genes to be “turned on” and instruct the cell to produce a variety of biochemical compounds. In addition, it seems that stem cells and nitric oxide have an uncanny ability to understand which compounds to turn on and at what time in order to repair or restore cells in need. Even in embryonic stem cells, scientists discovered NO has a dual role, controlling differentiation and survival. But, the molecular mechanisms by which NO modulates these important functions are still not completely understood. What we do know is that NO is intricately interwoven in stem cell function and survival.