The multiplicity of biological functions thus far attributed to NO has led to suggestions that some effects might be mediated by other, related species instead. The radical nature of NO cannot account for its cytotoxicity, but its reaction with superoxide to form peroxynitite and highly reactive hydroxyl radicals may be important in this context. The ease with which NO can react with and destroy Fe-S clusters is also an important factor. Nitrosonium and nitroxide ions can be produced in vivo and will react under conditions that are physiologically relevant. Both could, in theory, serve in cell signalling or as cytotoxic agents. More direct experimental evidence for their involvement is needed before we can confidently assign them specific biological roles. In this article, Anthony Butler, Frederick Flitney and Lyn Williams discuss the chemistry of NO and related species.