Arginine is an indispensable amino acid in neonates and is required for growth. Neonatal intestinal epithelial cells (IEC) are capable of arginine transport, catabolism, and synthesis and express nitric oxide (NO) synthase to produce NO from arginine. Our aim was to determine whether arginine directly stimulates IEC growth and protein synthesis and whether this effect is mediated via mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) and is NO-dependent. We studied neonatal porcine IEC (IPEC-J2) cultured in serum- and arginine-free medium with increasing arginine concentrations for 4 or 48 h. Our results show that arginine enhances IPEC-J2 cell survival and protein synthesis, with a maximal response at a physiological concentration (0.1-0.5 mM). Addition of arginine increased the activation of mTOR, p70 ribosomal protein S6 (p70 S6) kinase, and eukaryotic initiation factor 4E-binding protein 1 (4E-BP1) in a time- and dose-dependent manner. The arginine-induced protein synthesis response was not inhibited by the NO inhibitors nitro-l-arginine methyl ester (l-NAME) and aminoguanidine, despite inducible NO synthase expression in IPEC-J2 cells. Moreover, protein synthesis was not increased or decreased in some cases by addition of an NO donor (S-nitroso-N-acetylpenicillamine), arginine precursors (proline and citrulline) in the absence of arginine, or insulin; S-nitroso-N-acetylpenicillamine suppressed phosphorylation of mTOR, p70 S6 kinase, and 4E-BP1. We found a markedly higher arginase activity in IPEC-J2 cells than in primary pig IEC. Furthermore, mTOR inhibition by rapamycin partially (42%) reduced the arginine-induced protein synthesis response and phosphorylation of mTOR and 4E-BP1. We conclude that arginine-dependent cell survival and protein synthesis signaling in IPEC-J2 cells are mediated by mTOR, but not by NO.