Nitric oxide (NO) plays an important role in resistance to Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection. Our aim was to determine whether inducible NO synthase (iNOS) expression and generation of reactive nitrogen intermediates (RNI) by alveolar macrophages (AM) are increased in patients infected with M. tuberculosis. NO levels in the exhaled air of 19 active pulmonary tuberculosis (TB) and 14 control subjects were measured using a chemiluminescence NO analyser. The expression of iNOS on AM was studied by labelling AM with anti-mac iNOS polyclonal antibody analysed with a flow cytometer. The spontaneous generation of RNI by cultured AM was also measured. Data are presented as mean±SEM. The level of NO in exhaled air was higher in patients with active TB (16.2±1.2 parts per billion (ppb)) compared to control subjects (6.5±0.9 ppb), p<0.0001. Exhaled NO decreased with anti-TB treatment. Compared to control subjects (29.0±4.5 fluorescence intensity (FI)), iNOS expression on AM was upregulated in TB patients (86.3± 12.5 FI) p<0.001 and the capacity for spontaneous generation of nitrite was enhanced. Nitrite production was inhibited by N(G)-monomethyl-L-arginine (L- NMMA), a competitive inhibitor of iNOS. The expression of iNOS on AM was related to the concentration of exhaled NO (r=0.66, p<0.001) and the nitrite generation capacity of AM (r5=0.77, p<0.001). We conclude that the increase in exhaled nitric oxide observed in patients with active pulmonary tuberculosis is due to an upregulation of inhaled NO synthase expression in alveolar macrophages which have an enhanced capacity for nitric oxide production.
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