Type III nitric oxide synthase (type III NOS), also known as endothelial cell nitric oxide synthase (eNOS or ecNOS or NOS-3), is a constitutively expressed, calcium- and calmodulin-dependent, isoform of NOS. Its expression has been localized to endothelial cells and a subset of neurons in the brain. We report here that resident astrocytes of the central nervous system (CNS) of mice express type III NOS. Following an experimental neurotropic viral infection, the expression of type III NOS on reactive astrocytes increases substantially, predominately in virally infected regions of the brain. This upregulation of type III NOS expression is also evident following cytokine treatment in vitro. The intraperitoneal (i.p.) administration of IL-12, a potent activator of IFN-γ and TNF-α production, results in a substantial increase in type III NOS immunoreactivity in astrocytes. Cytokine-mediated activation of type III NOS is observed in vitro following exposure of a C6 glioma cells, which constitutively express type III NOS, to IL-12, IFN-γ, and TNF-α treatment. We conclude that astrocytes of the murine CNS express type III NOS, which may be positively regulated by a number or cytokines following viral infection. Type III NOS expression by astrocytes represents a novel source of nitric oxide in the brain. It may be important in regulating perfusion and maintaining the blood-brain barrier. Given the intimate association of astrocytes with endothelial cells and neurons, increased activity of type III NOS following viral infection may be beneficial in inhibition of Viral infection in neighboring cells.
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