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Metastatic cancer cells seed the lung via blood vessels. Because endothelial cells generate nitric oxide (NO) in response to shear stress, we postulated that the arrest of cancer cells in the pulmonary microcirculation causes the release of NO in the lung. After intravenous injection of B16F1 melanoma cells, pulmonary NO increased sevenfold throughout 20 minutes and approached basal levels by 4 hours. NO induction was blocked by N(G)-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester (L-NAME) and was not observed in endothelial nitric oxide synthase (eNOS)-deficient mice. NO production, visualized ex vivo with the fluorescent NO probe diaminofluorescein diacetate, increased rapidly at the site of tumor cell arrest, and continued to increase throughout 20 minutes. Arrested tumor cells underwent apoptosis with apoptotic counts more than threefold over baseline at 8 and 48 hours. Neither the NO signals nor increased apoptosis were seen in eNOS knockout mice or mice pretreated with L-NAME. At 48 hours, 83% of the arrested cells had cleared from the lungs of wild-type mice but only approximately 55% of the cells cleared from eNOS-deficient or L-NAME pretreated mice. eNOS knockout and L-NAME-treated mice had twofold to fivefold more metastases than wild-type mice, measured by the number of surface nodules or by histomorphometry. We conclude that tumor cell arrest in the pulmonary microcirculation induces eNOS-dependent NO release by the endothelium adjacent to the arrested tumor cells and that NO is one factor that causes tumor cell apoptosis, clearance from the lung, and inhibition of metastasis.

Original publication




Journal article


Am J Pathol

Publication Date





403 - 412


Animals, Cell Survival, Endothelium, Vascular, Enzyme Induction, Kinetics, Melanoma, Experimental, Mice, Mice, Inbred C57BL, Mice, Knockout, Microcirculation, NG-Nitroarginine Methyl Ester, Neoplasm Metastasis, Nitric Oxide, Nitric Oxide Synthase, Nitric Oxide Synthase Type II, Nitric Oxide Synthase Type III, Nitroarginine, Pulmonary Circulation, Time Factors