The physiological role of endogenous nitric oxide in regulation of renal function in humans is unclear. Eight healthy men received an inhibitor of nitric oxide synthase, N(G)-monomethyl-L-arginine (L-NMMA, 3 mg/kg), and saline placebo intravenously on two occasions. L-NMMA significantly increased mean arterial pressure (+7%) and total peripheral resistance (+36%). However, because renal plasma flow did not decrease significantly, the increase in renal vascular resistance (+21%) was significantly less than the increase in total peripheral resistance. Glomerular filtration rate (-19%), filtration fraction (-10%), urine flow rate (-18%), sodium (-28%), and free water excretion (-25%) all decreased significantly. Fractional distal, but not proximal, sodium reabsorption increased. L-NMMA also significantly decreased plasma nitrate and urinary excretion of nitrate and dopamine. There were no significant changes in plasma renin activity, plasma endothelin, and aldosterone or in platelet number and ex vivo aggregation. L-NMMA had a plasma half-life of 75 min. Basal generation of nitric oxide appears to contribute less to vascular tone in the kidney than systemically but may alter afferent arteriolar tone. Decreased fractional sodium excretion supports an important physiological role for nitric oxide in inhibition of tubular sodium reabsorption, possibly mediated by the renal dopaminergic system.