Concentrations of tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) and of NO(x) (sum of nitrite and nitrate as indicators of endogenous nitric oxide production) in milk and blood plasma were measured in three mastitis models in dairy cows in early lactation. Escherichia coli P4:O37 bacteria or endotoxin O111:B4 were administered into both left quarters of 12 and 6 cows, respectively. Six of the E. coli-infected cows were treated with a bactericidal antibiotic (Enrofloxacin; Bayer AG, Leverkusen, Germany) i.v. at 10 hr and subcutaneously (sc) at 30 hr after infection. NO(x) concentrations transiently increased maximally 10- to 11-fold in milk of E. coli-infected quarters with or without antibiotic treatment at 24 hr and after endotoxin administration. NO(x) concentrations did not change in milk of unchallenged quarters and in blood plasma. Increases of NO(x) were proceeded by a transient (96- to 149-fold) rise of milk TNF-alpha concentrations, which in endotoxin-administered quarters was maximal at 6 hr and in infected quarters without or with Enrofloxacin treatment at 10 and 14 hr. In blood plasma TNF-alpha concentrations only moderately increased to peaks in endotoxin-administered cows at 6 hr and in E. coli-infected cows at 14 hr postchallenge. In one severely sick, nontreated E. coli-infected cow milk, TNF-alpha response at 14 hr was excessive and followed by a spectacular rise of NO(x) concentration in milk between 48 and 72 hr. In conclusion, a possible clinical relevance of nitric oxide production associated with a rise of intramammary and systemic TNF-alpha during acute mastitis by E. coli infection and endotoxin in lactating dairy cows is indicated, but could not be inhibited by antibiotic treatment.