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Nitric oxide (NO) is a key signalling molecule released by vascular endothelial cells that is essential for vascular health. Low NO bioactivity is associated with cardiovascular diseases, such as hypertension, atherosclerosis, and heart failure and NO donors are a mainstay of drug treatment. However, many NO donors are associated with the development of tolerance and adverse effects, so new formulations for controlled and targeted release of NO would be advantageous. Herein, we describe the design and characterisation of a novel NO delivery system via the reaction of acidified sodium nitrite with thiol groups that had been introduced by cysteamine conjugation to porous graphene oxide nanosheets, thereby generating S-nitrosated nanosheets. An NO electrode, ozone-based chemiluminescence and electron paramagnetic resonance spectroscopy were used to measure NO released from various graphene formulations, which was sustained at >5 × 10-10 mol cm-2 min-1 for at least 3 h, compared with healthy endothelium (cf. 0.5-4 × 10-10 mol cm-2 min-1). Single cell Raman micro-spectroscopy showed that vascular endothelial and smooth muscle cells (SMCs) took up graphene nanostructures, with intracellular NO release detected via a fluorescent NO-specific probe. Functionalised graphene had a dose-dependent effect to promote proliferation in endothelial cells and to inhibit growth in SMCs, which was associated with cGMP release indicating intracellular activation of canonical NO signalling. Chemiluminescence detected negligible production of toxic N-nitrosamines. Our findings demonstrate the utility of porous graphene oxide as a NO delivery vehicle to release physiologically relevant amounts of NO in vitro, thereby highlighting the potential of these formulations as a strategy for the treatment of cardiovascular diseases.

Original publication




Journal article


Redox Biol

Publication Date





Graphite, Nitric Oxide, Humans, Nanostructures, Porosity, Nitric Oxide Donors, Cell Proliferation, Cardiovascular Diseases, Endothelial Cells, Human Umbilical Vein Endothelial Cells, Myocytes, Smooth Muscle