Ursodeoxycholate (UDCA) has anti-inflammatory and chemoprotective effects in animal models of inflammatory bowel disease and colon cancer. Because overproduction of nitric oxide (NO) by the inducible isoform of NO synthase (iNOS) is implicated in the pathogenesis of these conditions, we investigated the ability of UDCA to inhibit NO production in transformed human intestinal epithelial (DLD-1) cells. Nitrite/nitrate production was measured by the Griess reaction, enzymatic activity of iNOS was assessed by conversion of L-arginine to L-citrulline, and protein and mRNA were measured by Western and Northern blotting. Dose-dependent inhibition of interleukin-1 beta- and interferon-gamma-stimulated nitrite/nitrate production was observed when cells were preincubated for 6 h with UDCA (0-800 microM), and a substantial inhibition (81 +/- 3.2%) was seen at 500 microM. In cytokine-stimulated cells, UDCA reduced iNOS mRNA, protein, and enzyme activity without exerting cytotoxicity. UDCA had a minimal direct inhibitory effect on iNOS enzyme activity. UDCA pretreatment also reduced the expression of iNOS in the colonic epithelium of rats treated with bacterial lipopolysaccharide. Thus UDCA inhibits the induction of epithelial iNOS in vitro and in vivo, and this effect may contribute to the anti-inflammatory and chemoprotective actions of UDCA.