Nitric oxide (NO) has been shown to exert cytotoxic effects on tumor cells. We have reported that EC219 cells, a rat-brain-microvessel-derived endothelial cell line, produced NO through cytokine-inducible NO synthase (iNOS), the induction of which was significantly decreased by (a) soluble factor(s) secreted by DHD/PROb, an invasive sub-clone of a rat colon-carcinoma cell line. In this study, the DHD/PROb cell-derived NO-inhibitory factor was characterized. Northern-blot analysis demonstrated that the induction of iNOS mRNA in cytokine-activated EC219 cells was decreased by PROb-cell-conditioned medium. When DHD/PROb cell supernatant was fractionated by affinity chromatography using Con A-Sepharose or heparin-Sepharose, the NO-inhibitory activity was found only in Con A-unbound or heparin-unbound fractions, respectively, indicating that the PROb-derived inhibitory factor was likely to be a non-glycosylated and non-heparin-binding molecule. Pre-incubation of DHD/PROb-cell supernatant with anti-TGF-β neutralizing antibody completely blocked the DHD/PROb-derived inhibition of NO production by EC219 cells. Addition of exogenous TGF-β, dose-dependently inhibited NO release by EC219 cells. The presence of active TGF-β in the DHD/PROb cell supernatant was demonstrated using a growth-inhibition assay. Moreover, heat treatment of medium conditioned by the less invasive DHD/REGb cells, which constitutively secreted very low levels of active TGF-β, increased both TGF-β activity and the ability to inhibit NO production in EC219 cells. Thus, DHD/PROb colon-carcinoma cells inhibited NO production in EC219 cells by secreting a factor identical or very similar to TGF-β. © 1995 Wiley-Liss, Inc.