A reduced nitric oxide availability is a hallmark of endothelial dysfunction occurring early in atherosclerosis. Recently, we have shown that plasma nitrite mirrors acute changes in endothelial nitric oxide synthase activity in various mammals, including humans. Here, we examined the hypothesis that plasma nitrite levels are reduced in humans with endothelial dysfunction and the decrease is correlated with increasing numbers of cardiovascular risk factors (RF). Plasma nitrite concentrations were quantified by flow-injection analysis. The coefficient of variation for repeated measurements of plasma nitrite was <8%, and heart rate and blood pressure at the time of blood sampling had no significant effect on nitrite values measured (n=10). Baseline levels of plasma nitrite followed a normal distribution in each group studied and decreased progressively with increasing numbers of cardiovascular risk factors (n=351, p<0.001): 351+/-13 (0 RF), 261+/-10 (1 RF), 253+/-11 (2 RF), 222+/-18 (3 RF), and 171+/-29 nmol/L (4 RF). Intima media thickness (IMT) and flow-mediated dilation (FMD) were determined via ultrasound. Plasma nitrite and FMD levels were lower, whereas IMT was greater in individuals with endothelial dysfunction (n=12) compared to healthy volunteers (n=12). Nitrite correlated significantly with FMD (r=0.56, p<0.001) and inversely with IMT (r= -0.49, p<0.01). Plasma nitrite levels are reliably measurable in humans, indicate endothelial dysfunction, and correlate with cardiovascular risk factors. Future studies are necessary to identify the prognostic relevance of plasma nitrite determination in patients suffering from cardiovascular disease.