Evidence presented in this paper indicates that nitric oxide (NO), generated by a nonspecific "wound"-type of inflammation, is an important mediator of the early dysfunction of transplanted islets in rodents. Although allogeneic islets stimulate NO production to a greater degree than syngeneic islets, the amounts of NO produced after either are significantly elevated above baseline. Inhibition of NO production by N(G)-monomethyl-L-arginine (NMA), markedly decreases the time needed to restore euglycemia after intraportal transplantation of syngeneic islets in diabetic rats. The dose of NMA used was not observably toxic, with no significant changes in blood pressure, hepatic artery blood flow, serum hepatic enzyme levels, or in weight compared with control animals. In rat recipients of intraportal syngeneic transplants, evidence that NO is produced at the site of implantation includes (1) an early and transient increase in posttransplant hepatic vein nitrate levels (pretransplant, 90 microM; 24 hr, 230 microM; 48 hr, 250 microM; 72 hr, 170 microM; and 96 hr, 140 microM), (2) concurrent appearance of inducible NO synthase mRNA in liver extracts, and (3) immunohistochemical localization of inducible NO synthase within the transplanted islets. Suppression of NO production or inhibition of NO activity is a potential strategy to increase the early function and engraftment transplanted islets in the clinical setting.