In this work, we addressed the issue of whether exogenous NO and ONOO- (peroxynitrite) are able to alter growth, viability and/or differentiation of normal epithelial cells using cultured normal human keratinocytes as a model. 3-Morpholino-sydnonimine (SIN-1), a donor of both NO and O2–•, leading to the production of ONOO-, dose-dependently inhibited growth of human keratinocytes without loss of viability. This inhibitory effect was lowered when SIN-1 was transformed into a pure NO donor by scavenging O2–• with superoxide dismutase/catalase. Finally, scavenging NO release from SIN-1 with carboxy-1H-imidazol-1-yloxy,2-(4-carboxyphenyl)-4,5-dihydro-4,4,5,5 -tetramethyl-3-oxide (PTIO) resulted in a loss of the inhibitory effect of SIN-1. Together these findings suggest that both ONOO- and NO exert a growth inhibitory effect on human keratinocytes without cytotoxicity. Further support for this conclusion came from the treatment of human keratinocytes with the NO donor propanamine 3-(2-hydroxy-2-nitroso-1-propyl hydrazino) or with authentic peroxynitrite. Moreover, only SIN-1 or peroxynitrite, and not NO, was able to trigger the expression of markers of terminal differentiation in human keratinocytes. From a physiological perspective, the ability of peroxynitrite, a known genotoxic and potentially carcinogenic agent, to direct proliferating keratinocytes towards terminal differentiation may be crucial to protect the genomic stability of this barrier epithelium.

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