Acute ischaemic stroke is characterised by reductions in local cerebral blood flow (CBF) and activation of circulating platelets and leucocytes. Nitric oxide is a vasodilator and can inhibit these circulating cells. The aim of this study was to assess the effect of nitric oxide on platelet function and regional CBF in patients with acute ischaemic stroke. Sodium nitroprusside (SNP), a spontaneous nitric oxide donor, was administered at a dose which caused a 10 mm Hg fall in mean arterial blood pressure (MABP) in a pathophysiological study to 22 patients with acute ischaemic stroke and 12 matched control subjects. Platelet function (whole blood aggregation and flow cytometry) was assessed before and during SNP administration. Changes in regional CBF were measured using single photon emission computerised tomography (SPECT) scanning. SNP significantly reduced platelet aggregation in both the patient and control subject groups. Equally, the expression of platelet adhesion molecules P-selectin (CD62) and glycoprotein (GP) GP IIIa (CD61) were significantly reduced in both groups. GP Ia (CDw49b) expression was significantly attenuated in the patient but not in the control group. Four patients underwent SPECT scanning and improvements in local CBF corresponding to the penumbral area of the clinical stroke site were seen in 3 of these patients. A total of 24 regions of asymmetrical perfusion were examined, pre-SNP (median (SQR)), 0.68 (0.14) vs. peri-SNP 0.78 (0.17), 2p = 0.065. SNP, given at a dose which reduced MABP by 10 mm Hg, significantly inhibited platelet aggregation and adhesion molecule expression. Improved regional CBF was seen in some patients. SNP is a candidate therapeutic agent for patients with acute ischaemic stroke and warrants further study.