Endothelial nitric oxide synthase (eNOS) uncoupling is a mechanism that leads to endothelial dysfunction. Previously, we reported that shear stress-induced release of nitric oxide in vessels of aged rats was significantly reduced and was accompanied by increased production of superoxide (18, 27). In the present study, we investigated the influence of aging on eNOS uncoupling. Mesenteric arteries were isolated from young (3 mo) and aged (24 mo) C57 BL/6J mice. The expression of eNOS protein in young vs. aged mice was not significantly different. However, the aged mice had remarkable increases in the ratio of eNOS monomers to dimers and N(omega)-nitro-l-arginine methyl ester-inhibitable superoxide formation. The level of nitrotyrosine in the total protein and precipitated eNOS of aged vessels was increased compared with that in young vessels. HPLC analysis indicated a reduced level of tetrahydrobiopterin (BH4), an essential cofactor for eNOS, in the mesenteric arteries of aged mice. Quantitative PCR results implied that the diminished BH4 may result from the decreased expressions of GTP cyclohydrolase I and sepiapterin reductase, enzymes involved in BH4 biosynthesis. When isolated and cannulated second-order mesenteric arteries (approximately 150 microm) from aged mice were treated with sepiapterin, acetylcholine-induced, endothelium-dependent vasodilation improved significantly, which was accompanied by stabilization of the eNOS dimer. These data suggest that eNOS uncoupling and increased nitrosylation of eNOS, decreased expressions of GTP cyclohydrolase I and sepiapterin reductase, and subsequent reduced BH4 bioavailability may be important contributors of endothelial dysfunction in aged vessels.