Researchers at Oregon Health and Science University's School of Dentistry have said that nitric oxide is a powerful regulator of a molecule that plays a critical role in the development and function of the nervous system.
The discovery could someday play a significant role in the prevention and treatment of high blood pressure, which affects about one in three adults in the United States.
Changes in blood pressure are signalled to the brain by nerve cells called baroreceptors.
In an earlier study, the researchers found that baroreceptors make a molecule called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which belongs to the family of neurotrophins that play a critical role in the development and plasticity of other nerve cells.
The researchers found that nitric oxide is a potent regulator of BDNF in baroreceptor neurons.
Nitric oxide is known for its ability to improve the elasticity of blood vessels and to lower blood pressure.
It is the active metabolite of nitroglycerin, which has been used to treat coronary artery disease for more than 100 years.
Nitric oxide widens small arteries and counteracts artery stiffening, and several lines of evidence also indicate that its deficiency leads to hypertension.
"This is the first study to show the role of nitric oxide in inhibiting BDNF release from peripheral nerve cells. This finding supports our hypothesis that BDNF is involved in establishing connections in the blood pressure control system and could someday play a significant role in the prevention of high blood pressure," said Dr. Agnieszka Balkowiec, principal investigator.
The study has been published in the Journal of Neuroscience Research.