Intimal infiltration by monocytes and accumulation of lipids represent a critical step in the formation of fatty streaks during atherogenesis. Because elevated plasma levels of asymmetric dimethylarginine (ADMA), a potent nitric oxide (NO) synthase (NOS) inhibitor, are prevalent in diverse cardiovascular diseases, the goal of this study was to examine the contribution of NO deficiency to macrophage lipid accumulation. Inhibition of NO synthesis in PMA-primed human monocytic leukemia HL-60 cells resulted in a twofold increase in expression of the receptor for oxidized LDL (OxLDL), termed the lectin-like OxLDL receptor (LOX-1). Blockade of inducible NOS in activated macrophages resulted in 1,1'-dioctadecyl-3,3,3',3'-tetramethylindocarbocyanine perchlorate (DiI)-OxLDL accumulation and imparted macrophages with a foamy appearance as detected with oil-red O lipid staining. ADMA (15 microM) or N(G)-nitro-l-arginine methyl ester (l-NAME, 300 microM), both of which suppress inducible NOS activity, increased oil-red staining 1.9- and 2.8-fold, respectively. Macrophages treated with ADMA or l-NAME showed a 2.4-fold increase in accumulation of DiI-OxLDL. To examine the role of LOX-1 in this process, we used small interfering RNA (siRNA) duplex-mediated LOX-1 gene silencing. LOX-1 expression was suppressed twofold by siRNA as shown by Western blot analysis. This suppression was associated with a two- to fourfold decrease in DiI-OxLDL uptake as identified by fluorescence microscopy and decreased oil-red O staining by activated macrophages. In conclusion, accumulation of ADMA (a competitive inhibitor of NOS) in patients with chronic renal failure may be responsible for upregulation of LOX-1 receptor and increased OxLDL uptake, thus contributing to lipidosis and foam cell formation. The data illustrate an additional nonendothelial mode of antiatherogenic action of NO: prevention of LOX-1 induction and lipid accumulation by macrophages.