The effect of glucocorticoids on the production of NO2- and NO by the macrophage cell line J774 was investigated. Stimulation of the cells with lipopolysaccharide (LPS) resulted in a time-dependent accumulation of NO2- in the medium, reaching a plateau after 48h. Concomitant incubation of the cells for 24h with dexamethasone (0.001-1.0 microM) or hydrocortisone (0.01-10.0 microM) caused a concentration-dependent inhibition of NO2- formation. The cytosol of J774 cells stimulated with LPS and IFN-gamma produced a time-dependent increase in the release of NO. This was blocked in a concentration-dependent manner by dexamethasone and hydrocortisone, but not progesterone, administered concomitantly with the immunological stimulus. None of these compounds had any effect on the release of NO once the enzyme had been induced. The inhibitory effect of hydrocortisone on NO formation was blocked by cortexolone. These data suggest that part of the anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive actions of glucocorticoids is due to their inhibition of the induction of the NO synthase.