The role of endogenous nitric oxide (NO) in acute inflammation was investigated using two inhibitors of NO synthase (NG-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester(L-NAME) and NG-monomethyl-L-arginine (L-NMMA)) as well as L- or D-arginine. The effect of test compounds was studied on the carrageenin-induced increase in vascular permeability in rat skin and in dextran- and carrageenin-induced paw oedema. Both L-NAME and L-NMMA dose dependently inhibited the increase in vascular permeability and oedema formation. L- but not D-arginine increased these inflammatory responses and reversed the inhibitory effects of L-NAME and L-NMMA. In dexamethasone-treated rats L-arginine enhanced the dextran-induced oedema and the early phase of carrageenin-induced oedema but did not modify the inhibition by dexamethasone of the late phase of carrageenin-induced oedema. These results suggest that endogenous NO is released at the site of acute inflammation and modulates oedema formation. Depending on the time course or on the type of inflammation, NO may be predominantly generated by the constitutive or by the inducible NO synthase.