Mechanisms of Nitrogen Dioxide Reactions: Initiation of Lipid Peroxidation and the Production of Nitrous Acid

+ See all authors and affiliations

Science  23 Oct 1981:
Vol. 214, Issue 4519, pp. 435-437
DOI: 10.1126/science.214.4519.435


The reactions of nitrogen dioxide with cyclohexene have been studied as a model for the reactions that occur between nitrogen dioxide in smoggy air and unsaturated fatty acids in pulmonary lipids. As predicted from earlier studies at high nitrogen dioxide concentrations, this gas reacts with cyclohexene predominantly by addition to the double bond at nitrogen dioxide concentrations of 1 percent (10,000 parts per million) to 40 percent in nitrogen; in the presence of air or oxygen, this reaction initiates the autoxidation of the alkene. However, at concentrations below 100 parts per million in nitrogen, nitrogen dioxide reacts with cyclohexene almost exclusively by abstraction of allylic hydrogen; this unexpected reaction also initiates the autoxidation of the alkene in the presence of oxygen or air, but it leads to the production of nitrous acid rather than of a product containing a nitro group attached to a carbon atom. The nitrous acid can react with amines to produce nitrosamines. Moreover, the nitrite ion produced by the hydrogen abstraction mechanism would be expected to diffuse throughout the body, unlike nitrated lipids that would be confined to the pulmonary cavity. These findings have been confirmed with methyl oleate, linoleate, and linolenate; some of the kinetic features of the nitrogen dioxide—initiated autoxidation of these unsaturated fatty acids have been studied.