Intracellular production of nitric oxide (NO) is thought to mediate the pancreatic B-cell-directed cytotoxicity of cytokines in insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, and recent evidence has indicated that this may involve induction of apoptosis. A primary effect of NO is to activate soluble guanylyl cyclase leading to increased cGMP levels and this effect has been demonstrated in pancreatic B-cells, although no intracellular function has been defined for islet cGMP. Here we demonstrate that the NO donor, GSNO, induces apoptosis in the pancreatic B-cell line HIT-T15 in a dose- and time-dependent manner. This response was significantly attenuated by micromolar concentrations of a specific inhibitor of soluble guanylyl cyclase, ODQ, and both 8-bromo cGMP (100 microM) and dibutyryl cGMP (300 microM) were able to fully relieve this inhibition. In addition, incubation of HIT-T15 cells with each cGMP analogue directly promoted cell death in the absence of ODQ. KT5823, a potent and highly selective inhibitor of cGMP-dependent protein kinase (PKG), abolished the induction of cell death in HIT cells in response to either GSNO or cGMP analogues. This effect was dose-dependent over the concentration range of 10-250 nM. Overall, these data provide evidence that the activation of apoptosis in HIT-T15 cells by NO donors is secondary to a rise in cGMP and suggest that the pathway controlling cell death involves activation of PKG.