Immunostimulants trigger vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMC) to express the inducible isoform of NO synthase (iNOS) and increased arginine transport activity. Although arginine transport in VSMC is considered to be mediated via the y+ system, we show here that rat VSMC in culture express the cat-1 gene transcript as well as an alternatively spliced transcript of the cat-2 gene. An RT-PCR cloning sequence strategy was used to identify a 141-base nucleotide sequence encoding the low-affinity domain of alternatively spliced CAT-2A and a 138-base nucleotide sequence encoding the high-affinity domain of CAT-2B in VSMC activated with lipopolysaccharide (LPS) in combination with interferon-gamma (IFN). With this sequence as a probe, Northern analyses showed that CAT-1 mRNA and CAT-2B mRNA are constitutively present in VSMC, and the expression of both mRNAs was rapidly stimulated by treatment with LPS-IFN, peaked within 4 h, and decayed to basal levels within 6 h after LPS-IFN. CAT-2A mRNA was not detectable in unstimulated or stimulated VSMC. Arginine transporter activity significantly increased 4-10 h after LPS-IFN. iNOS activity was reduced to almost zero in the absence of extracellular arginine uptake via system y+. Induction of arginine transport seems to be a prerequisite to the enhanced synthesis of NO in VSMC. Moreover, this work demonstrates tissue expression of CAT mRNAs with use of a model of LPS injection in rats. RT-PCR shows that the expression of CAT-1 and CAT-2B mRNA in the lung, heart, and kidney is increased by LPS administration to rats, whereas CAT-2A mRNA is abundantly expressed in the liver independent of LPS treatment. These findings suggest that together CAT-1 and CAT-2B play an important role in providing substrate for high-output NO synthesis in vitro as well as in vivo and implicate a coordinated regulation of intracellular iNOS enzyme activity with membrane arginine transport.