To examine the effects of cigarette smoke on nitric oxide synthase (NOS) gene expression and protein production, groups of rats were exposed to smoke once only or daily and were sacrificed after 1, 2, 7, or 28 days of exposure. NOS-1, NOS-2, and NOS-3 mRNAs in whole lung were quantified using reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), and NOS protein levels were determined by Western blots. Neither NOS-1 gene expression nor protein levels changed with smoke exposure. Levels of NOS-2 expression were more than doubled in smokers at Day 1 and decreased to control values during 1 month with daily smoke exposure, while protein levels did not change. NOS-3 expression was increased approximately 35% after 2 days of smoke exposure and remained increased to 28 days, whereas protein levels were increased by approximately 60% at Day 7 and remained elevated. In situ hybridization showed that NOS-2 was diffusely expressed in the lung parenchyma, airways, and vessels, and that NOS-3 was strongly expressed in vascular endothelium. Protein distribution, as determined by immunohistochemical staining, was identical to mRNA tissue distribution, and these distributions were not changed by smoke. We conclude that smoke exposure induces a rapid but transient increase in transcription of NOS-2, and a sustained increase in transcription and translation of NOS-3; up-regulation of NOS occurs within the anatomic compartment where these genes are normally expressed. These findings indicate that cigarette smoke can directly and rapidly affect NOS expression, and thus potentially affect the function of the pulmonary vasculature.