Nitric oxide (NO) is an important signalling molecule in different animal and plant physiological processes. Little is known about its biological function in plants and on the enzymatic source or site of NO production during plant development. The endogenous NO production from L-arginine (NO synthase activity) was analyzed in leaves, stems and roots during plant development, using pea seedlings as a model. NOS activity was analyzed using a novel chemiluminescence-based assay which is more sensitive and specific than previous methods used in plant tissues. In parallel, NO accumulation was analyzed by confocal laser scanning microscopy using as fluorescent probes either DAF-2 DA or DAF-FM DA. A strong increase in NOS activity was detected in stems after 11 days growth, coinciding with the maximum stem elongation. The arginine-dependent NOS activity was constitutive and sensitive to aminoguanidine, a well-known irreversible inhibitor of animal NOS, and this NOS activity was differentially modulated depending on the plant organ and seedling developmental stage. In all tissues studied, NO was localized mainly in the vascular tissue (xylem) and epidermal cells and in root hairs. These loci of NO generation and accumulation suggest novel functions for NO in these cell types.