Decreased cerebrospinal fluid nitrate levels in Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease and multiple system atrophy patients.
Nitric oxide (NO) is a recently discovered endogenous mediator of vasodilatation, neurotransmission, and macrophage cytotoxicity. NO is thought to have a function in memory and in long-term potentiation. At high concentrations NO is neurotoxic and may play a role in neurodegeneration. NO is formed from L-arginine by the enzyme NO synthase (NOS), for which tetrahydrobiopterin (BH4) is a necessary co-factor. Alzheimer's disease (AD) and, to a lesser degree, Parkinson's disease (PD) are thought to be associated with increased microglial activity, suggesting that NO production may be increased. Alternatively, in circumstances of reduced levels of intracellular L-arginine or BH4, NO production is diminished and neurotoxic oxygen radicals may be produced. Since BH4 is decreased in AD and PD brains, these diseases may be associated with decreased NO production. We investigated these two alternatives by measuring the NO degradation products nitrite and nitrate in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) of PD (n = 103), AD (n = 13), and multiple system atrophy (MSA; n = 14) patients and controls (n = 20). We found for all patient groups, compared with controls, significantly decreased levels of nitrate, but not nitrite. This finding seems to indicate a decreased NO production of the central nervous system (CNS) in these neurodegenerative disorders.