Nitric oxide in exhaled air is thought to reflect airway inflammation. No data have been reported so far on circadian changes in NO in subjects with nocturnal asthma. To determine whether exhaled NO shows a circadian rhythm inverse to the circadian rhythm in airway obstruction in subjects with nocturnal asthma, we conducted a study involving six healthy controls, eight individuals without nocturnal asthma (4-h to 16-h variation in peak expiratory flow [PEF] <= 15%), and six individuals with nocturnal asthma (4-h to 16-h PEF variation > 15%). Smoking, use of corticosteroids, and recent respiratory infections were excluded. NO concentrations were measured at 12, 16, 20, and 24 h, and at 4, 8, and 12 h of the next day, using the single-breath method. At the same times, FEV1 and PEF were also measured. Mean NO concentrations were significantly higher in subjects with nocturnal asthma than in subjects without nocturnal asthma, and higher in both groups than in healthy controls at all time points. Mean exhaled NO levels over 24 h correlated with the 4-h to 16-h variation in PEF (r = 0.61, p < 0.01). Exhaled NO did not show a significant circadian variation in any of the three groups as assessed with cosinor analysis, in contrast to the FEV1 in both asthma groups (p < 0.05). At 4 h, mean +/- SD NO levels were higher than at 16 h in subjects with nocturnal asthma; at 50 +/- 20 ppb versus 42 +/- 15 ppb (p < 0.05); other measurements at all time points were similar. Differences in NO and FEV1 from 4 h to 16 h did not correlate with one another. We conclude that subjects with nocturnal asthma exhale NO at higher levels both at night and during the day, which may reflect more severe diurnal airway-wall inflammation. A circadian rhythm in exhaled NO was not observed. NO levels did not correspond to the circadian rhythm in airway obstruction. The small increase in NO at 4 h may indicate an aspect of inflammation, but it is not associated with increased nocturnal airway obstruction.