Should you eat another hot dog? A paper in the September issue of Nature Chemical Biology reports that nitrite--a common additive in foods such as hot dogs--is a built-in signaling molecule that regulates multiple biochemical pathways. The high levels of nitrite resulting from its addition to food have been considered dangerous because they could cause low blood pressure and lead to the production of carcinogenic compounds.
Although these high nitrite concentrations have the potential to cause harmful effects to our health, low levels of nitrite have been considered physiologically inert. Recent research however, has suggested that low levels of nitrite could influence physiological processes such as vasodilation -- the dilation of blood vessels.
Martin Feelisch and colleagues have now examined the specific biochemical response to nitrite and shown that levels of protein nitrosylation and nitrosation (the addition of nitric oxide to different positions in proteins) are directly correlated with in vivo nitrite levels. These protein modifications lead to changes in multiple biochemical signaling pathways and gene transcription in vivo. Mechanistic evidence has further suggested that nitrite may be able to modify proteins directly, rather than going through nitric oxide, a well-established signaling molecule.
The team's results uncover new avenues for mechanistic exploration of the physiological roles of nitrite and could have important implications for dietary guidelines for nitrite-containing foods.
Martin Feelisch (Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, MA, USA)
Abstract available online.
(C) Nature Chemical Biology press release.
Message posted by: Trevor M. D'Souza