Acceleration of the heart rate in response to catecholamines is impaired in cirrhosis. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that increased formation of reactive nitrogen species in biliary cirrhosis causes nitration of cardiac proteins and leads to impaired chronotropic function. Bile duct-ligated (rats with cirrhosis) or sham-operated rats were injected daily with either saline, N(G)-L-nitro-arginine methyl ester (L-NAME), or N-acetylcysteine for 7 days from week 3 to week 4 after surgery. Cardiac chronotropic responsiveness to beta-adrenergic stimulation was assessed in vitro using spontaneous beating isolated atria. Nitration of cardiac proteins was measured by mass spectrometry and located by immunogold electron microscopy. Marked impairment of chronotropic responses of isolated atria to isoproterenol was seen in rats with cirrhosis, which normalized after the administration of N-acetylcysteine or L-NAME. The levels of protein-bound nitrotyrosine in atrial tissue increased from 16 +/- 1 to 23 +/- 3 pg/microg tyrosine in rats with cirrhosis, and decreased to 15 +/- 1 and 17 +/- 1 pg/microg after treatment with L-NAME and N-acetylcysteine, respectively (P < .05). Immunogold electron microscopy demonstrated increased nitration of mitochondrial proteins in the atria of rats with cirrhosis. The plasma nitrite/nitrate levels were elevated in rats with biliary cirrhosis, and decreased after administration of L-NAME but were unchanged by N-acetylcysteine. In conclusion, abnormal cardiac chronotropic function in cirrhosis is associated with increased nitration of cardiac proteins. Two independent treatments (N-acetylcysteine and L-NAME) that decrease nitration of cardiac proteins led to normalization of cardiac responses. Nitration of critical proteins in cardiac tissue may lead to abnormal cardiac function.