Vascular damage in systemic sclerosis (SSc) may be a factor in the abnormal regulation of several vasoactive agents. It has been well confirmed that plasma endothelin-1, as a vasoconstrictive factor, is elevated in patients with SSc. However, it is still controversial whether the levels of serum nitric oxide (NO), a strong vasodilator, are increased or decreased in SSc patients compared to healthy donors. In this study, we measured the levels of serum NO metabolites in SSc patients and determined the contribution of the excessive production of NO synthase (NOS)-2 by skin fibroblasts to NO synthesis. Serum NO levels of 45 patients with SSc were significantly higher than those of 20 healthy volunteers. In addition, some clinical features of SSc (the extent of skin fibrosis, short disease duration, and the complication of active fibrosing alveolitis) were all correlated positively with the levels of NO metabolites in SSc patients. To evaluate the levels of NOS-2 produced by skin fibroblasts, skin fibroblast cultures were established from SSc patients and healthy volunteers. Reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction indicated that NOS-2 mRNA was spontaneously expressed in cultured fibroblasts derived from SSc patients, but not in those derived from healthy normal controls. Immunohistochemical staining also showed that NOS-2 proteins were detected in SSc fibroblasts but not in normal fibroblasts. The production of NO by cultured fibroblasts was visualized directly by a reagent (DAF-2 DA) used for the fluorescent detection of NO. Cultured SSc fibroblasts were capable of NO synthesis in culture media containing L-arginine, whereas normal fibroblasts (with no expression of NOS-2) did not synthesize detectable NO. These observations indicate that NO production is increased markedly in early-stage diffuse cutaneous SSc patients with active fibrosing alveolitis, and that constitutive NOS-2 expression in SSc fibroblasts may contribute to increased NO production.