Findings in previous studies have suggested nitric oxide (NO) to be a regulator of mucociliary activity in the upper airways. The aim of the present investigation was to study whether a correlation exists between the nasal NO concentration and mucociliary function in patients suffering from respiratory tract diseases such as chronic sinusitis or recurrent pneumonia. Nasal NO was measured with a chemiluminescence analyser, 100 ppb (parts per billion) being adopted as the lower limit of the normal range on the basis of findings in an earlier study of healthy subjects. Mucociliary function was evaluated by measurements of ciliary beat frequency (CBF) in nasal brush samples, and the saccharin transport test. A subnormal level of nasal NO was found in 50% (9/18) of the patients. This correlated with a significantly impaired mucociliary function, regarding both CBF and the saccharin transport time. The median CBF was 10.6 Hz in the group with normal levels of nasal NO, as compared to 8.4 Hz in the subnormal NO group. All patients with a normal nasal NO concentration had a mean CBF of > or = 9.0 Hz in their nasal brush samples, but in the subnormal group the same measurements yielded a CBF of > or = 9.0 Hz in only 22% (2/9) of the cases. As measured with the saccharin test, mucociliary transport was normal in 78% (7/9) in the normal nasal NO group, but the saccharin test was normal only in 11% (1/9) of the subnormal nasal NO group. Nasal NO levels were found to correlate with both CBF measurements (Spearman's rho, 0.80) and the saccharin transport test results (Spearman's rho, -0.61). The results of the present study provide further support for the view that NO is an important regulator of mucociliary function in the upper airways, and that measurements of the nasal NO concentration should be included in investigations of the mucociliary system.