The acute effects of inhaled nitric oxide (NO) (40 ppm in air) on pulmonary (PVR) and systemic (SVR) vascular resistance were compared with those of an intravenous infusion of prostacyclin (24 micrograms/h) in 8 patients with severe pulmonary hypertension and 10 cardiac patients with normal values of PVR. 10 healthy volunteers were studied non-invasively. In the patients with pulmonary hypertension, PVR fell significantly after inhaled NO and after prostacyclin. PVR also fell significantly in the cardiac patients after inhaled NO. Although SVR fell substantially after prostacyclin in patients with pulmonary hypertension, inhaled NO had no effect on SVR in any patient or volunteer. Inhaled NO therefore seems to be both a selective and effective pulmonary vasodilator.