Effects of a nitroxybutylester derivative of aspirin (NCX 4215) on platelet aggregation and prostanoid synthesis were compared to the effects of aspirin. NCX 4215 was approximately seven times more potent than aspirin as an inhibitor of thrombin-induced human platelet aggregation in vitro, but did not inhibit platelet thromboxane synthesis or gastric prostaglandin synthesis. NCX 4215 released nitric oxide when incubated in the presence of platelets and increased platelet levels of cGMP within 10 min of exposure, while aspirin did not. The anti-aggregatory effects of NCX 4215 in vitro were significantly attenuated by 10 microM hemoglobin. In ex vivo studies of ADP- or collagen- or thrombin-induced rat platelet aggregation, aspirin and NCX 4215 had comparable inhibitory effects 3 h after administration. Aspirin (10-120 mg/kg) caused extensive hemorrhagic erosion formation in the stomach of the rat within 3 h of oral administration, while NCX 4215 did not produce significant damage at doses of up to 300 mg/kg, nor when given daily for two weeks at 166 mg/kg. NCX 4215 did not alter systemic arterial blood pressure when administered intravenously to the rat. These studies demonstrate that NCX 4215 has comparable or enhanced anti-thrombotic activity to that of aspirin, but does not cause gastric damage or alter systemic blood pressure. The anti-thrombotic actions of NCX 4215 are, at least in part, due to generation of nitric oxide.