Nitric oxide (NO) has recently been discovered to be an important endothelium-derived relaxing factor and produces profound relaxation of vascular smooth muscle. To learn if NO could be a potent and selective pulmonary vasodilator, NO was inhaled by 16 awake lambs in an attempt to reduce the increase in pulmonary artery pressure (PAP) and pulmonary vascular resistance (PVR) induced by either the infusion of an exogenous pulmonary vasoconstrictor (the thromboxane analog U46619) or the endogenous release of thromboxane that occurs during the neutralization of heparin anticoagulation by protamine sulfate. Inhaling greater than or equal to 40 ppm of NO during a continuous U46619 infusion returned the PAP to a normal value, without affecting systemic blood pressure or vascular resistance. Pretreatment with the cyclooxygenase inhibitor indomethacin before infusing U46619 did not reduce the pulmonary vasodilatory effect of inhaled NO, and we conclude that the dilatory effect of NO on the lung's circulation is independent of cyclooxygenase products such as prostacyclin. Continuously inhaling NO at 180 ppm did not significantly reduce the mean peak thromboxane B2 concentration at 1 min after protamine injection; however, the mean values of pulmonary hypertension and vasoconstriction at 1 min were markedly reduced below the levels in untreated heparin-protamine reactions. Breathing NO at lower concentrations (40-80 ppm) did not decrease the mean peak PAP and PVR at 1 min after protamine but decreased the PAP and PVR values at 2, 3, and 5 min below those of control heparin-protamine reactions. Intravenous infusion of nitroprusside completely prevented the transient increase of PAP and PVR during the heparin-protamine reaction; however, marked concomitant systemic vasodilation occurred. Inhaled NO is a selective pulmonary vasodilator that can prevent thromboxane-induced pulmonary hypertension during the heparin-protamine reaction in lambs and can do so without causing systemic vasodilation.