The majority of the data on nitric oxide (NO) in the central nervous system (CNS) relies on histochemical and immunohistochemical evidence concerning the distribution of the nitric oxide synthase (NOS), its inhibition by specific antagonists and its co-localization with the receptor enzyme guanylate cyclase (GC) in the same functional region. All three isoforms, endothelial (eNOS), neural (nNOS) and macrophage type inducible (iNOS), are of importance to the normal and pathological function of the CNS. In nNOS gene deleted mice eNOS seems to contribute to the maintenance of neuronal function. NO may contribute to synaptic plasticity as a retrograde mediator that is released by postsynaptic NMDA-receptor activation. Microglia contains membrane-bound inducible iNOS that may be important in host defence function. Glia and pericytes surrounding the blood vessels contain GC that is stimulated by NO released from endothelium and nerve endings. Excessive production of highly reactive NO may be responsible for the neurotoxicity mediated by NMDA receptors that contributes to the symptomatology of strokes and neurodegenerative diseases. Moreover, after initial stimulation by cytokines, large amounts of NO produced by iNOS in the microglia (brain-based macrophages) may cause cellular damage.