Diphenyleneiodonium (DPI) inhibits activity of flavoenzymes like NADPH oxidase, the major source of superoxide anion in cardiovascular system, but affects also other oxidoreductases. Contradictory data have been published concerning the effect of diphenyleneiodonium on the production of reactive oxygen species in cells, both inhibitory and stimulatory action of DPI being reported. We have examined the effect of DPI on the cellular production of reactive oxygen and nitrogen species (ROS/RNS) and on the proliferation and apoptosis of human vascular endothelial cells. We found increased oxidation of ROS-sensitive probes (dihydrorhodamine 123 and 2',7'-dichlorodihydrofluorescein diacetate) when DPI (20 microM-100 microM) was present in the treated cells. However, oxidation of the fluorogenic probes was inhibited if DPI (20 microM-100 microM) was removed from the reaction medium after cell preincubation. These results suggest an artifactual oxidation of the fluorogenic probes by DPI or its metabolites. A similar pattern of influence of DPI on the production of NO (measured with 4-amino-5-methylamino-2',7'-difluorofluorescein diacetate) was observed. Modulation of generation of reactive oxygen and nitrogen species in DPI-treated cells influenced the nitration of tyrosine residues of cellular proteins, estimated by Western blotting. Decreased level of nitration generally paralleled the lowered production of ROS. A decreased 3-(4,5-dimethylthiazolyl)-3-3(4-sulphophenyl) tetrazolium (MTT) reducing activity of cells for was observed immediately after 1h treatment of human endothelial cells with DPI (1 microM-100 microM), in spite of lack of changes in cell viability estimated by other methods. These results point to a next limitation of MTT in estimation of viability of cells treated with oxidoreductase inhibitors. DPI inhibited the proliferation of HUVECs as well as immortalized cell line HUVEC-ST, as assessed by acid phosphatase activity test and measurement of total nucleic acid content. Proapoptotic action of DPI was observed 12 h after incubation with this compound.