Recognition of the role of nitric oxide in cell-to-cell communication has changed the concept of traditional neurotransmission. We have shown previously that N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors mediate dipsogenic responses and c-Fos expression induced by intracerebroventricular infusion of angiotensin II. Since these receptors are known to be linked to the nitric oxide-cyclic GMP pathway, the present study explores the contribution of this path to the behavioural and cellular effects of intracerebroventricular angiotensin II by using behavioural testing, NADPH-diaphorase histochemistry and immunocytochemical staining for the immediate-early gene, c-fos. N(G)-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester (125 and 250 microg, intracerebroventricular), an inhibitor of nitric oxide synthase, and Methylene Blue (100 microg), an inhibitor of guanylate cyclase activation, antagonized water intake induced by intracerebroventricular injection of 25 pmol angiotensin II. The effects of N(G)-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester were reversed by co-injection of L-arginine, the substrate for nitric oxide synthase. However, N(G)-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester did not alter the pattern of angiotensin II-induced c-fos expression in the organum vasculosum of the lamina terminalis, median preoptic nucleus, hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus and supraoptic nucleus. Double staining with NADPH-diaphorase histochemistry and c-Fos immunocytochemistry showed that neurons staining for both were localized to the anterior third ventricle. However, only 19-25% of the c-Fos-positive neurons expressed NADPH. There were also substantial numbers of neurons in which angiotensin II induced c-Fos that were NADPH-negative. Extensive co-distribution of NADPH-diaphorase-stained cells and those expressing c-fos in response to intracerebroventricular injection of angiotensin II, especially in the median preoptic nucleus, imply that nitric oxide might participate in the mechanism of angiotensin II-induced drinking behaviour. However, a low rate of co-localization of the two markers to individual cells suggests that angiotensin II stimulated the production of nitric oxide and c-Fos in different populations of neurons. Since our previous results showed that glutamate blockade, but not nitric oxide synthase inhibition, suppressed angiotensin II-induced c-Fos, the experiments reported here further suggest that nitric oxide release is not an essential requirement for the expression of c-fos elicited by angiotensin II. They also provide evidence that the dipsogenic and c-Fos responses to angiotensin II are dissociated at a cellular level.