1. The ability of 2-amino-4-methylpyridine to inhibit the catalytic activity of the inducible NO synthase (NOS II) enzyme was characterized in vitro and in vivo. 2. In vitro, 2-amino-4-methylpyridine inhibited NOS II activity derived from mouse RAW 264.7 cells with an IC50 of 6 nM. Enzyme kinetic studies indicated that inhibition is competitive with respect to arginine. 2-Amino-4-methylpyridine was less potent on human recombinant NOS II (IC50 = 40 nM) and was still less potent on human recombinant NOS I and NOS III (IC50 = 100 nM). NG-monomethyl-L-arginine (L-NMMA), N6-iminoethyl-L-lysine (L-NIL) and aminoguanidine were much weaker inhibitors of murine NOS II than 2-amino-4-methylpyridine but, unlike 2-amino-4-methylpyridine, retained similar activity on human recombinant NOS II. L-NMMA inhibited all three NOS isoforms with similar potency (IC50S 3-7 microM). In contrast, compared to activity on human recombinant NOS III, L-NIL displayed 10 x selectivity for murine NOS II and 11 x selectivity for human recombinant NOS II while aminoguanidine displayed 7.3 x selectivity for murine NOS II and 3.7 x selectivity for human recombinant NOS II. 3. Mouse RAW 264.7 macrophages produced high levels of nitrite when cultured overnight in the presence of lipopolysaccharide (LPS) and interferon-gamma. Addition of 2-amino-4-methylpyridine at the same time as the LPS and IFN-gamma, dose-dependently reduced the levels of nitrite (IC50 = 1.5 microM) without affecting the induction of NOS II protein. Increasing the extracellular concentration of arginine decreased the potency of 2-amino-4-methylpyridine but at concentrations up to 10 microM, 2-amino-4-methylpyridine did not inhibit the uptake of [3H]-arginine into the cell. Addition of 2-amino-4-methylpyridine after the enzyme was induced also dose-dependently inhibited nitrite production. Together, these data suggest that 2-amino-4-methylpyridine reduces cellular production of NO by competitive inhibition of the catalytic activity of NOS II, in agreement with results obtained from in vitro enzyme kinetic studies. 4. When infused i.v. in conscious unrestrained rats, 2-amino-4-methylpyridine inhibited the rise in plasma nitrate produced in response to intraperitoneal injection of LPS (ID50 = 0.009 mg kg-1 min-1). Larger doses of 2-amino-4-methylpyridine were required to raise mean arterial pressure in untreated conscious rats (ED50 = 0.060 mg kg-1 min-1) indicating 6.9 x selectivity for NOS II over NOS III in vivo. Under the same conditions, L-NMMA was nonselective while L-NIL and aminoguanidine displayed 5.2 x and 8.6 x selectivity respectively. All of these compounds caused significant increases in mean arterial pressure at doses above the ID50 for inhibition of NOS II activity in vivo. 5. 2-Amino-4-methylpyridine also inhibited LPS-induced elevation in plasma nitrate after either subcutaneous (ID50 = 0.3 mg kg-1) or oral (ID50 = 20.8 mg kg-1) administration. 6. These data indicate that 2-amino-4-methylpyridine is a potent inhibitor of NOS II activity in vitro and in vivo with a similar degree of isozyme selectivity to that of L-NIL and aminoguanidine in rodents.