A fast and simple method for the direct, simultaneous detection of nitrite (NO(2) (-)) and nitrate (NO(3) (-)) in rat striatum has been developed using a capillary electrophoresis separation of low-flow push-pull perfusion samples. The method was optimized primarily for nitrite because nitrite is more important physiologically and is found at lower levels than nitrate. We obtained a complete separation of NO(2) (-) and NO(3) (-) in rat striatum within 1.5 min. Optimal CE separations were achieved with 20 mM phosphate, 2 mM cetyltrimethylammonium chloride (CTAC) buffer at pH 3.5. The samples were injected electrokinetically for 2 s into a 40 cm x 75 microm ID fused-silica capillary. The separation voltage was 10 kV (negative polarity), and the injection voltage was 16 kV (negative polarity). UV detection was performed at 214 nm. The limits of detection obtained at a signal-to-noise ratio (S/N) of 3 for nitrite and nitrate were 0.96 and 2.86 microM. This is one of the fastest separations of nitrite and nitrate of a biological sample ever reported. Interference produced by the high physiological level of chloride is successfully minimized by use of CTAC in the run buffer.