In addition to left ventricular pump failure and low cardiac output, structural and metabolic alterations of skeletal muscle are thought to contribute to exercise intolerance seen in patients with CHF. Studies using cardiac myocytes have implicated nitric oxide elaborated by inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) as a potential agent associated with the genesis of dilated cardiomyopathy. The present study was designed to locate iNOS in the working skeletal muscle of patients with congestive heart failure. Specific antibodies were used to detect iNOS by immunohistochemistry in skeletal muscle biopsies (m. vastus lateralis) of 37 patients with left ventricular pump failure and 8 normal controls. The expression was restricted to skeletal muscle myocytes and was increased five- to ninefold in patients with chronic heart failure. There was no statistically significant difference in iNOS expression between patients with dilated cardiomyopathy and those with ischemic cardiomyopathy. The finding of a locally increased expression of iNOS and the experimental evidence that NO attenuates the contractile performance of the skeletal muscle suggest that the expression of iNOS may be responsible for the exercise intolerance seen in patients with chronic heart failure.