The endogenous production of nitric oxide (NO) in the upper airways was studied in healthy newborn infants within the first minutes after delivery (N = 2) and at postnatal ages of 1 and 24 h (N = 13). Measurements were made in infants born vaginally or by cesarean section and at various times after the rupture of membranes. Gas was sampled from the nose and pharynx, and NO concentrations were determined by a fast response chemiluminescence analyzer. Sampling from the nose at a constant flow of 20 mL/min gave 0.27 +/- 0.01 parts per million (mean +/- SEM, ppm) of NO, independent of age and mode of delivery (vaginal delivery and cesarean section). Allowing NO to accumulate in the nose for 15-120 s yielded peak concentrations up to 4.6 ppm. A 30% increase was noted between 1 and 24 h of age. We conclude that nasal peak NO concentrations in the ppm range can be demonstrated in the healthy newborn infant within the first hour after birth. Consequently autoinhalation of endogenously produced upper airway NO may play a role in the adaptation of the respiratory system to postnatal life in the human.