Congeners of nitrogen monoxide (NO) are neuroprotective and neurodestructive. To address this apparent paradox, we considered the effects on neurons of compounds characterized by alternative redox states of NO: nitric oxide (NO.) and nitrosonium ion (NO+). Nitric oxide, generated from NO. donors or synthesized endogenously after NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartate) receptor activation, can lead to neurotoxicity. Here, we report that NO.- mediated neurotoxicity is engendered, at least in part, by reaction with superoxide anion (O2.-), apparently leading to formation of peroxynitrite (ONOO-), and not by NO. alone. In contrast, the neuroprotective effects of NO result from downregulation of NMDA-receptor activity by reaction with thiol group(s) of the receptor's redox modulatory site. This reaction is not mediated by NO. itself, but occurs under conditions supporting S-nitrosylation of NMDA receptor thiol (reaction or transfer of NO+). Moreover, the redox versatility of NO allows for its interconversion from neuroprotective to neurotoxic species by a change in the ambient redox milieu. The details of this complex redox chemistry of NO may provide a mechanism for harnessing neuroprotective effects and avoiding neurotoxicity in the central nervous system.