Nitric oxide and muscarinic agonists both stimulate motoneuron spike activity and cGMP production in the central nervous system of larval Manduca sexta. The possible role of nitric oxide in mediating muscarinic changes in excitability was examined by measuring cGMP accumulation and proleg motoneuron activity while blocking or mimicking the production of nitric oxide. All the muscarinic-induced changes in cGMP are blocked by the nitric oxide-synthase inhibitor, nitro-l-arginine, an effect that is partially prevented by co-incubation with arginine. Action potential blockage with tetrodotoxin revealed that muscarinic increases in cGMP production have both spike-dependent and spike-independent mechanisms. Furthermore, nitric oxide donors can increase proleg motoneuron activity and this stimulation is blocked by 1H-[1,2,4]oxadiazolo[4,3-a]quinoxalin-1-one suggesting that it is mediated by a nitric oxide-sensitive guanylyl cyclase. In contrast, nitro-l-arginine and a variety of other nitric oxide-synthase inhibitors and nitric oxide scavengers have no significant effect on muscarinic stimulation of motoneuron activity. Therefore, although a nitric oxide sensitive guanylyl cyclase is capable of elevating spike activity and muscarinic agonists can increase cGMP, this mechanism is not necessary for the normal muscarinic increase in excitability. It is concluded that muscarinic receptors are coupled to nitric oxide and cGMP production in neurons other than those controlling the prolegs.