The role of nitric oxide (NO) on cognitive performance in a modified elevated plus-maze (mEPM) and passive-avoidance (PA) task was investigated by using the NO synthase (NOS) inhibitor 7-nitroindazole (7-NI) and an NO precursor l-arginine. The interaction between the activation of N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptors and NO synthesis on memory retention was also studied. 7-NI, l-arginine or MK-801, a non-competitive NMDA receptor antagonist were injected intraperitoneally (i.p) to male Wistar rats 30 min before the first training session of the PA test or 30 min before on the first day testing (acquisition session) of mEPM task. Transfer latency, the time rat took to move from the open arm to the enclosed arm, was used as an index of learning and memory in a mEPM test. The retention session was performed 24 h after the acquisition one. In the PA task, the retention test was carried out 24 h after training and reduction of retention latency was used to evaluate the acquisition of learning and memory. Blood glucose level and locomotor activity of the rats was also evaluated. 7-NI (10, 20, 25, 50 mg/kg) and MK-801 (0.15 mg/kg) significantly prolonged the transfer latency on retention session in a mEPM test and shortened step-through latency in PA test. 7-NI-induced impairment in memory and learning was partly reversed by l-arginine (200 mg/kg), a competitive substrate for NOS. However subeffective doses of 7-NI (5 mg/kg) and MK-801 (0.075 mg/kg) given in combination significantly impaired plus-maze and PA performances in rats. Thus NMDA receptor mediated NO pathways may be implicated in the PA and mEPM behaviours in rats. Since 7-NI does not affect blood pressure and did not alter blood glucose level and locomotor activity in conscious rats, 7-NI-induced impairment of memory is not due to either hypertension, changes in blood glucose level or effects on locomotor activity.