Recent work indicates that nitric oxide (NO) plays an important role in the systemic and renal alterations of cirrhosis. In the present study, we have evaluated whether the inducible NO synthase (iNOS) isoform participates in the enhanced renal and systemic NO production of a rat model of cirrhosis. In vitro and in vivo experiments were performed in rats subjected to chronic bile duct ligation (BDL) and in sham-operated (SO) animals. Plasma nitrite (3.1 ± 0.1 micromol/L in SO and 6.6 ± 0.2 micromol/L in BDL), glomerular nitrite production (6.4 ± 0.1 vs. 9.8 ± 0.1 nmol/24h/7,000 glomeruli, respectively), and mononuclear lymphocyte cells nitrite production (0.3 ± 0.04 vs. 0.6 ± 0.12 nmol/10(6) cells, respectively) were all significantly higher in BDL than in SO. Moreover, mononuclear lymphocytes and glomeruli from BDL rats showed an increased expression of macrophage-type iNOS, detected by Western blot. Kidneys from BDL animals also showed an increased calcium-independent NO synthase activity, compared with those from SO rats. Constitutive endothelial-type NO synthase expression in glomeruli or the activity of calcium-dependent NO synthase in whole kidney did not show differences between BDL and SO rats. In cultured mesangial cells from normal rats, the addition of plasma from BDL but not of plasma from SO significantly stimulated (35%) nitrite production and increased the expression of macrophage-type iNOS. In addition, administration of aminoguanidine (AG), a preferential iNOS inhibitor, elevated dose-dependently mean arterial pressure in both groups, but this increase was greater in BDL (26.5 ± 4.4 mm hg) than in SO (13.6 ± 2.6). In BDL, AG also increased sodium and water excretion and glomerular filtration rate. In contrast, there were only small nonsignificant changes in SO animals. Therefore, these results indicate that the expression, activity and production of NO in kidneys, glomeruli, and mononuclear lymphocyte cells is elevated in BDL rats, and this is partly because of a plasma-derived substance(s), which stimulates iNOS formation. The amelioration of the arterial hypotension and the associated reduced excretory levels of these cirrhotic animals by aminoguanidine further support the involvement of the inducible NO synthase isoform in the renal alterations observed in BDL animals.