Cryptococcus neoformans and Aspergillus fumigatus are airborne fungi and the alveolar macrophages (AM) constitute a first line of host defence against both pathogens. We investigated the ability of rat AM to produce nitric oxide (NO) when challenged in vitro with C. neoformans, A. fumigatus conidia or inert silica particles alone and together with interferon gamma (IFN-Gamma). The role of NO in the killing of C. neoformans as well as the relationship between phagocytosis of the yeast or A. fumigatus conidia and NO production by AM were studied. Both fungi, but not the inert particles induced a small but significant increase in NO production by AM. A synergistically enhanced NO production by AM was observed when each fungus, but not silica particles, were incubated together with IFN-Gamma. AM treated with IFN-Gamma and challenged with C. neoformans showed higher killing activity than untreated AM, a finding that correlated with increased NO production by AM. Both effects were reduced by an inhibitor of NO synthesis. Increased NO production by IFN-Gamma activated AM was found together with an increased accumulated attachment of A. fumigatus conidia and serum opsonized, but not unopsonized C. neoformans. The IFN-Gamma dependent increase in accumulated attachment of the fungi might be responsible for the synergistic effect of the fungi and IFN-Gamma on the NO production. Our data suggest that activated rat AM might efficiently use the antimicrobial nitric oxide system in the defence against these pathogens in the normal host.