Concentrations of nitric oxide (NO) have been found to be reduced in both the upper and lower airway of patients with cystic fibrosis (CF). As NO modulates bronchomuscular tone, low NO levels may contribute to the obstructive lung disease in these patients. To assess whether increasing inspiratory NO concentrations has any impact on lung function, we have studied 13 CF patients aged 14-38 years in a clinically stable condition and nine healthy controls. NO was applied via a mixing chamber for 5 min with NO concentrations of 100 parts per billion, 1 and 40 parts per million. Spirometry was performed at baseline and after inhalation on each occasion. There were no clinical side-effects at any NO concentration and no changes in oxygen saturation were observed. Lung function remained unchanged in all subjects throughout the study period. Sputum nitrate and nitrite concentrations before and after inhalation of high NO concentrations (40 ppm) in eight CF patients did not show any significant changes, even though a tendency to higher nitrate levels was observed (399 +/- 231 vs. 556 +/- 474 mumol l-1). Therefore, inhaled NO at either the physiological levels present in the upper airway of normal individuals or those used therapeutically to treat pulmonary hypertension has no immediate effect on bronchomuscular tone in patients with cystic fibrosis.