The role of endogenously produced nitric oxide (NO) in the regulation of basal catecholamine (CA) secretion was studied in chromaffin cells. Treatment of chromaffin cells with nitric oxide synthase (NOS) inhibitors produced a dose-dependent increase in basal catecholamine secretion, which paralleled their ability to inhibit NOS activity. This inhibitory profile was similar to that found in neurons, suggesting the constitutive expression of neuronal NOS (nNOS) in these cells, which was confirmed by Western blot analysis. A study of the kinetics and pharmacology of nNOS activity expressed in chromaffin cells in culture indicated that NOS activity is calcium-dependent, increases with time, and is highly dependent on both intracellular concentrations of L-arginine (Km ∼ 4 μM, Vmax = 908 ± 60 pmol/hr × 106 cells) and transport of L-arginine into the cells (exhibiting two affinity constants of k1 = 3.2 ± 0.3 μM and k2 = 126 ± 5.5 μM). The effects of NOS inhibitors on CA secretion were mediated by the L-arginine-NO-cGMP pathway, insofar as exogenous L-arginine was able to partially block the increase in CA secretion evoked by them, and 1H-[1,2,4]oxadiazolo[4,3-a]quinoxaline-1-one (ODQ), a specific inhibitor of guanylate cyclase, and zaprinast, an inhibitor of the cGMP phosphodiesterase, were able to increase and inhibit, respectively, basal CA secretion in a dose-dependent manner. These results suggest that chromaffin cells exhibit a tonic production of NO by nNOS that keeps the basal CA secretion at low levels, and this could be necessary for maintaining a normotensive state. © 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.