The effect of diabetes was determined on nitric oxide synthase (NOS) activity in rat heart and liver. The diabetes was induced by streptozotocin (STZ) and NOS activity was determined after 1 or 12 weeks post-STZ injection. In both tissues, the majority of NOS activity was associated with endothelial constitutive calcium-sensitive NOS (ecNOS) isoform and found in the particulate (100,000xg pellet) fraction in young rats. The diabetes as well as age reduced this activity significantly in heart, whereas only the age caused a decrease in ecNOS activity in liver tissue. Lipopolysaccharides (LPS) induced calcium-insensitive iNOS activity in both young and old rats. The induction was significantly higher (up to 10-fold) in liver as compared to heart. Although the maximum induction of iNOS in young rats was almost similar in diabetic tissues as compared to control animals, there was a lag period for induction of iNOS in diabetic tissues. In old diabetic rats, the induction by LPS was almost completely abolished. These results suggest that diabetes causes either no change or a decrease in ecNOS activity and impairment in the induction of iNOS by LPS in rat heart and liver.