We have investigated various nitric oxide (NO) synthase inhibitors for their affinity and selectivity toward the three human isoenzymes in radioligand binding experiments. Therefore, we developed the new radioligand [(3)H]2-amino-4-picoline to measure binding of these compounds to the three human NO synthase (NOS) isoenzymes. Aminopicoline is a potent and nonselective inhibitor of all three isoforms. [(3)H]2-amino-4-picoline bound saturably and with high affinity to human NOSs. Affinity constants (K(D) values) of 59, 111, and 136 nM were obtained for the inducible, neuronal, and endothelial NOS isoforms (iNOS, nNOS, eNOS). Binding of [(3)H]2-amino-4-picoline was competitive with the substrate arginine. From all the inhibitors tested, AMT (2-amino-5, 6-dihydro-6-methyl-4H-1,3-thiazine hydrochloride) showed the highest affinity and no selectivity. L-NIL [L-N(6)-(1-Iminoethyl)lysine hydrochloride] and aminoguanidine were moderately iNOS-selective while L-NA (N(G)-nitro-L-arginine) and L-NAME (N(G)-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester hydrochloride) showed selectivity toward the constitutive isoforms. High iNOS versus eNOS selectivity was found for 1400W, whereas several isothiourea derivatives and 1400W displayed moderate n- versus eNOS selectivity. To relate the affinity of these compounds to their inhibitory potency, we measured the inhibitory potency under almost identical conditions using a new microtiter plate assay. The inhibitory potency of selective and nonselective NOS inhibitors was almost exactly mirrored by their affinity toward the different isoenzymes. Highly significant correlations were obtained between the potency of enzyme inhibition and the inhibition of [(3)H]2-amino-4-picoline binding for all three isoenzymes. These data show that the potency and selectivity of NOS inhibitors are solely determined by their affinity toward the different isoforms. Furthermore, these data identify the new radioligand [(3)H]2-amino-4-picoline as a very useful radiolabel for the investigation of the substrate binding site of all three isoforms.