The induction of hepatic nitric oxide synthase (NOS) and the biosynthesis of nitric oxide (NO) were studied in liver after partial hepatectomy (PH). NOS activity in the liver remnant was observed 4 to 6 hours after PH, and no differences were evidenced between the proximal and distal surgical areas. The form of NOS expressed in liver was independent of calcium and calmodulin, and the messenger RNA levels were first detected 2 hours after hepatectomy using a probe corresponding to the cytokine-induced macrophage NOS. The seric concentration of nitrites remained unchanged after hepatectomy, whereas the content in nitrates and in S-nitrosylated proteins progressively increased in parallel with the NOS activity. The spectra of hemoglobin in the 400-to 460-nm region failed to exhibit the characteristic shift caused by the formation of the nitrosyl-hemoglobin complex, suggesting that NO was rapidly metabolized in liver. Treatment of the animals with substrate analogue NOS inhibitors blocked the pattern of DNA ploidy elicited after hepatectomy, suggesting a role for NO in the regenerative process. Peritoneal resident macrophages were used as an alternative reporter cell system for the assessment of NOS expression. Incubation ex vivo of peritoneal macrophages from animals that underwent hepatectomy induced the expression of NOS in a cytokine-modulated fashion, suggesting that macrophages were primed as a result of the hepatectomy. When peritoneal macrophages from control rats were incubated with the sera of animals that underwent hepatectomy, a time-dependent induction of NOS was observed, with a maximal induction corresponding to sera collected 2 hours after PH. These results indicate that NO might be involved in the control of early responses after PH.