The effects of the nitric oxide (NO) synthesis inhibitor L-N5-(1-iminoethyl)-ornithine (L-NIO) on baseline tone and on responses to the endothelium-dependent vasodilator agents were investigated in the pulmonary vascular bed of the cat under constant-flow conditions. When administered in doses of 1 and 5 mg/kg i.v., L-NIO inhibited pulmonary vasodilator responses to acetylcholine, bradykinin, and substance P but did not alter vasodilator responses to adenosine, pinacidil, or adrenomedullin. L-NIO in doses of 1-10 mg/kg i.v. did not significantly affect baseline lobar arterial pressure, and when administered in doses of 10-30 mg/kg i.v. the inhibitory effect on responses to bradykinin and substance P was not greater than that observed when the lower doses of L-NIO were administered. L-NIO in doses of 5-30 mg/kg i.v. reduced plasma reactive nitrogen intermediate levels. The inhibitory effects of L-NIO were similar to the inhibitory effects of N omega-nitro-L-arginine, N omega-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester, and N omega-nitro-L-arginine benzyl ester. The highest dose of L-NIO studied (30 mg/kg i.v.) caused a significant increased in lobar arterial pressure, and the administration of N omega-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester (100 mg/kg i.v.) caused a significant increase in lobar arterial pressure in animals previously treated with L-NIO (1 mg/kg i.v.). The results of the present study show that the effects of L-NIO on endothelium-dependent vasodilator responses and on baseline tone can be separated and may be interpreted to suggest that basal release of NO does not play an important role in the maintenance of baseline tone in the pulmonary vascular bed of the cat.