alpha-Synuclein (ASN), a small presynaptic protein that is abundant in the brain, is implicated in the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative disorders including Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease. The central domain of alpha-synuclein, the non-amyloid beta component of the Alzheimer's disease amyloid (NAC) is probably responsible for its toxicity. However, the molecular mechanism of alpha-synuclein action remains largely elusive. The present study examined the effect of alpha-synuclein and the NAC peptide on nitric oxide synthase (NOS) activity in rat brain cortical and hippocampal slices using a radiochemical technique. Moreover, nitrite levels in brain slices incubated in the presence of alpha-synuclein were measured using the Griess reaction. ASN and the NAC stimulated NOS activity by about 70% and 40%, respectively. beta-Synuclein, a homologous protein of ASN that lacks the NAC domain, had no effect on NOS activity. Under the same experimental conditions, alpha-synuclein increased nitrite levels by 27%. alpha-Synuclein and the NAC affected the activity of constitutive neuronal isoform of NOS, but had no impact on the endothelial or inducible NOS isoforms. The effect of alpha-synuclein and the NAC peptide on NOS activity was inhibited by MK-801 and APV, antagonists of the NMDA receptor. These results indicate that the NMDA receptor plays an important role in alpha-synuclein-evoked nitric oxide synthesis. We suggest that nitric oxide liberated by the over-activated neuronal isoform of NOS could react with superoxide to form peroxynitrite, which modulates the function of a variety of biomolecules including proteins, lipids, and DNA.