There is growing evidence that endogenous nitric oxide (NO) regulates mucosal barrier integrity under physiological conditions and counters the increase in mucosal permeability associated with acute pathophysiological states. The potential mechanisms of action for the protective effects of NO are discussed. These include maintenance of blood flow, inhibition of platelet and leukocyte adhesion and/or aggregation within the vasculature, modulation of mast cell reactivity, and scavenging of reactive oxygen metabolites such as superoxide. On the basis of the data presented, we conclude that both constitutive nitric oxide synthase (cNOS)-derived endogenous NO and exogenous NO (from NO donors) appear to reduce the sequelae of acute inflammation. The second section of this review summarizes the data germane to prolonged (chronic) inflammatory conditions associated with the overproduction of NO from the inducible form of NOS (iNOS). Some emphasis is placed on the role of NO in sepsis and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and data to suggest that NO, or more specifically a NO-derived mediator, is involved in these disorders are summarized. These studies are compared with recent publications suggesting that inhibition of NO synthesis with nonspecific inhibitors of NOS or selective iNOS inhibitors may not protect in models of sepsis or IBD. Overall, the review highlights the potential importance of the type of NOS enzyme involved in the particular inflammatory process being studied.