Nitric oxide (NO) has been implicated in migraine pathogenesis based on the delayed development of typical migraine headache 4-6 h after infusing the NO donor nitroglycerin [glyceryl trinitrate (GTN)] to migraineurs. Furthermore, inhibiting the synthesis of NO by treatment with a NO synthase (NOS) inhibitor attenuates spontaneous migraine headaches in 67% of subjects. Because NO has been linked to inflammation and cytokine expression, we investigated the delayed consequences of brief GTN infusion (30 min) on the development of meningeal inflammation in a rat model using doses relevant to the human model. We found dose-dependent Type II NOS [inducible NOS (iNOS)] mRNA upregulation in dura mater beginning at 2 h and an increase in the corresponding protein expression at 4, 6 and 10 h after infusion. Type II NOS immunoreactivity was expressed chiefly within resident meningeal macrophages. Consistent with development of a delayed inflammatory response, we detected induction of interleukin 1beta in dura mater at 2 and 6 h and increased interleukin 6 in dural macrophages and in rat cerebrospinal fluid at 6 h after GTN infusion. Myeloperoxidase-positive cells were rarely found. Leakage of plasma proteins from dural blood vessels was first detected 4 h after GTN infusion, and this was suppressed by administering a specific Type II NOS inhibitor [L-N(6)-(1-iminoethyl)-lysine (L-NIL)]. In addition to cytokine induction, macrophage iNOS upregulation and oedema formation after GTN infusion, dural mast cells exhibited granular changes consistent with secretion at 4 and 6 h. Because iNOS was expressed in dural macrophages following topical GTN, and in the spleen after intravenous injection, the data suggest that the inflammatory response is mediated by direct actions on the dura and does not develop secondary to events within the brain. Our findings point to the importance of new gene expression and cytokine expression as fundamental to the delayed response following GTN infusion, and support the hypothesis that a similar response develops in human meninges after GTN challenge.