1. Activation of macrophages with lipopolysaccharide (LPS) and low doses of interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma) induced apoptotic death through a nitric oxide-dependent pathway. 2. Treatment of cells with the immunosuppressors cyclosporin A (CsA) or FK506 inhibited the activation-dependent apoptosis. 3. These drugs decreased the up-regulation of p53 and Bax characteristic of activated macrophages. Moreover, incubation of activated macrophages with CsA and FK506 contributed to maintain higher levels of Bcl-2 than in LPS/IFN-gamma treated cells. 4. The inhibition of apoptosis exerted by CsA and FK506 in macrophages was also observed when cell death was induced by treatment with chemical nitric oxide donors. 5. Incubation of macrophages with LPS/IFN-gamma barely affected caspase-1 but promoted an important activation of caspase-3. Both CsA and FK506 inhibited pathways leading to caspase-3 activation. Moreover, the cleavage of poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase, a well established caspase substrate, was reduced by these immunosuppressive drugs. 6. CsA and FK506 reduced the release of cytochrome c to the cytosol and the activation of caspase-3 in cells treated with nitric oxide donors. 7. These results indicate that CsA and FK506 protect macrophages from nitric oxide-dependent apoptosis and suggest a contribution of the macrophage to innate immunity under conditions of immunosuppression of the host.