Glutamate NMDA receptor activation within the periaqueductal gray (PAG) leads to antinociceptive, autonomic and behavioral responses characterized as the fear reaction. Considering that NMDA receptor triggers activation of neuronal nitric oxide synthase (nNOS), enzyme that produces nitric oxide (NO), this study investigated the effects of intra-PAG infusions of NPLA (Nomega-propyl-L-arginine), an nNOS inhibitor, on behavioral and antinociceptive responses induced by local injection of NMDA receptor agonist in mice. The behaviors measured were frequency of jumping and rearing as well as duration (in seconds) of running and freezing. Nociception was assessed during the second phase of the formalin test (injection of 50 microl of formalin 2.5% into the dorsal surface of the right hind paw). Five to seven days after stereotaxic surgery for intracerebral cannula implantation, mice were injected with formalin into the paw, and 10 min later, they received intra-dPAG injection of NPLA (0, 0.2, or 0.4 nmol/0.1 microl). Ten minutes later, they were injected with NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartate: 0 or 0.04 nmol/0.1 microl) into the same midbrain site and were immediately placed in glass holding cage for recording the defensive behavior and the time spent on licking the injected paw with formalin during a period of 10 min. Microinjections of NMDA significantly decreased nociception response and produced jumping, running, and freezing reactions. Intra-dPAG injections of NPLA (0.4 nmol) completely blocked the NMDA effects without affecting either behavioral or nociceptive responses in intra-dPAG saline-injected animals, except for the rearing frequency that was increased by the nNOS inhibitor. These results strongly suggest the involvement of NO within the PAG in the antinociceptive and defensive reactions induced by local glutamate NMDA receptor activation in this midbrain structure.