Nitric oxide (NO) is a molecule with pleiotropic effects in different tissues. NO is synthesized by NO synthases (NOS), a family with four major types: endothelial, neuronal, inducible and mitochondrial. They can be found in almost all the tissues and they can even co-exist in the same tissue. NO is a well-known vasorelaxant agent, but it works as a neurotransmitter when produced by neurons and is also involved in defense functions when it is produced by immune and glial cells. NO is thermodynamically unstable and tends to react with other molecules, resulting in the oxidation, nitrosylation or nitration of proteins, with the concomitant effects on many cellular mechanisms. NO intracellular signaling involves the activation of guanylate cyclase but it also interacts with MAPKs, apoptosis-related proteins, and mitochondrial respiratory chain or anti-proliferative molecules. It also plays a role in post-translational modification of proteins and protein degradation by the proteasome. However, under pathophysiological conditions NO has damaging effects. In disorders involving oxidative stress, such as Alzheimer's disease, stroke and Parkinson's disease, NO increases cell damage through the formation of highly reactive peroxynitrite. The paradox of beneficial and damaging effects of NO will be discussed in this review.