The reaction of nitrite with deoxyhemoglobin (deoxyHb) results in the reduction of nitrite to NO, which binds unreacted deoxyHb forming Fe(II)-nitrosylhemoglobin (Hb(II)NO). The tight binding of NO to deoxyHb is, however, inconsistent with reports implicating this reaction with hypoxic vasodilation. This dilemma is resolved by the demonstration that metastable intermediates are formed in the course of the reaction of nitrite with deoxyHb. The level of intermediates is quantitated by the excess deoxyHb consumed over the concentrations of the final products formed. The dominant intermediate has a spectrum that does not correspond to that of Hb(III)NO formed when NO reacts with methemoglobin (MetHb), but is similar to metHb resulting in the spectroscopic determinations of elevated levels of metHb. It is a delocalized species involving the heme iron, the NO, and perhaps the β-93 thiol. The putative role for red cell reacted nitrite on vasodilation is associated with reactions involving the intermediate. (1) The intermediate is less stable with a 10-fold excess of nitrite and is not detected with a 100-fold excess of nitrite. This observation is attributed to the reaction of nitrite with the intermediate producing N2O3. (2) The release of NO quantitated by the formation of Hb(II)NO is regulated by changes in the distal heme pocket as shown by the 4.5-fold decrease in the rate constant in the presence of 2,3-diphosphoglycerate. The regulated release of NO or N 2O3 as well as the formation of the S-nitroso derivative of hemoglobin, which has also been reported to be formed from the intermediates generated during nitrite reduction, should be associated with any hypoxic vasodilation attributed to the RBC.
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