We demonstrate that SCF-KIT signaling induces synthesis and secretion of endothelin-3 (ET3) in human umbilical vein endothelial cells and melanoma cells in vitro, gastrointestinal stromal tumors, human sun-exposed skin, and myenteric plexus of human colon post-fasting in vivo. This is the first report of a physiological mechanism of ET3 induction. Integrating our finding with supporting data from literature leads us to discover a previously unreported pathway of nitric oxide (NO) generation derived from physiological endothelial NO synthase (eNOS) or neuronal NOS (nNOS) activation (referred to as the KIT-ET3-NO pathway). It involves: (1) SCF-expressing cells communicate with neighboring KIT-expressing cells directly or indirectly (cleaved soluble SCF). (2) SCF-KIT signaling induces timely local ET3 synthesis and secretion. (3) ET3 binds to ETBR on both sides of intercellular space. (4) ET3-binding-initiated-ETBR activation increases cytosolic Ca2+, activates cell-specific eNOS or nNOS. (5) Temporally- and spatially-precise NO generation. NO diffuses into neighboring cells, thus acts in both SCF- and KIT-expressing cells. (6) NO modulates diverse cell-specific functions by NO/cGMP pathway, controlling transcriptional factors, or other mechanisms. We demonstrate the critical physiological role of the KIT-ET3-NO pathway in fulfilling high demand (exceeding basal level) of endothelium-dependent NO generation for coping with atherosclerosis, pregnancy, and aging. The KIT-ET3-NO pathway most likely also play critical roles in other cell functions that involve dual requirement of SCF-KIT signaling and NO. New strategies (e.g. enhancing the KIT-ET3-NO pathway) to harness the benefit of endogenous eNOS and nNOS activation and precise NO generation for correcting pathophysiology and restoring functions warrant investigation.
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