Vascular tone critically depends on the endothelial release of nitric oxide and prostacyclin. Superoxide anions counteract these relaxations by trapping nitric oxide under formation of peroxynitrite. As we have recently reported, peroxynitrite is able to inhibit prostacyclin formation in aortic microsomes (Zou et al., 1996). Here we show that peroxynitrite also blocks purified prostacyclin synthase with an IC50 value of about 50 nM and with a similar sensitivity also inhibits the enzyme activity in the EaHy 926 endothelial cell line. Thromboxane synthase, having the same heme-thiolate (P450) structure and a closely-related mechanism was unaffected by peroxynitrite. Anti-nitrotyrosine antibodies reacted positive by a Western blot after treatment of the purified enzyme with 1 microM peroxynitrite. Tetranitromethane also inhibited the enzyme activity which, like the inhibition by peroxynitrite, could be partially prevented in the presence of the substrate analog U46619. The simultaneous generation of superoxide and nitric oxide proved to be as efficient as a bolus of peroxynitrite which supports a possible inactivation of prostacyclin synthase under in vivo conditions. This substantiates an often suggested crucial role of superoxide in the pathophysiology of the cardiovascular system.