1. The synthesis and release of nitric oxide may play a role in the pathogenesis of peripheral vasodilatation and hyperdynamic circulation observed in liver cirrhosis. In this work, we analysed the synthesis of nitric oxide by the lympho-mononuclear cells of peripheral blood from patients with chronic alcoholic and non-alcoholic liver disease and we identified the isoform of nitric oxide synthase involved in the increased nitric oxide synthesis.

2. Patients were classified following clinical and histological criteria in non-alcoholic cirrhotic, alcoholic cirrhotic and non-cirrhotic chronic liver disease. We studied clinical and analytical characteristics, haemodynamic parameters and endotoxin levels in these patients.

3. Cirrhotic patients showed an increase of cardiac output and a decrease of peripheral vascular resistance. These patients had higher levels of plasma endotoxin than those observed in the control group. Nω-Nitro-l-arginine methyl ester (l-NAME)-inhibitable nitrite production from mononuclear lymphocyte cells was higher in patients than in the control group, the highest levels being in non-alcoholic cirrhotic patients, and the lowest levels in patients with non-cirrhotic alcoholic liver disease.

4. Immunocytochemistry studies revealed a positive immunoreactivity for the inducible isoform of nitric oxide synthase in lympho-mononuclear cells that was more evident in non-alcoholic than in alcoholic cirrhotic patients. By Northern blot, inducible nitric oxide synthase mRNA expression was observed only in lympho-mononuclear cells from non-alcoholic cirrhotic patients.

5. Our patients show a correlation between nitric oxide synthesis, endotoxin levels and haemodynamic parameters.

6. These findings indicate that lympho-mononuclear cell stimulation may play a role in elevated nitric oxide production in hepatic cirrhosis. Thus, this increased nitric oxide synthesis could be implicated in the pathogenesis of the haemodynamic disturbances frequently found in cirrhotic patients. This increase seems to be induced, at least in part, by activation of an inducible isoform of nitric oxide synthase.

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