Granuloma formation in response to mycobacterial infections is associated with increased expression of inducible nitric oxide synthase (NOS2) within granuloma macrophages and increased levels of nitrate/nitrite in the sera of infected mice. Continuous treatment with 5 mm or 10 mm l-N6-(1-imino-ethyl)-lysine (L-NIL), a selective NOS2-inhibitor, in acidified drinking water for up to 7 weeks consistently reduced infection-induced nitrate/nitrite to background levels in mycobacteria-infected BALB/c mice. Oral treatment with 5 mm L-NIL initiated at the time of infection significantly exacerbated growth of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, but had no effect on Mycobacterium avium colony-forming unit development in the liver, spleen and lungs of intravenously infected mice. In order to examine the role of nitric oxide in mycobacteria-induced granulomatous inflammation in the absence of any effect on the bacterial load, M. avium-infected mice were treated with 5 mm L-NIL from day 1 through 38 and the development of granulomatous lesions in the liver was assessed by histology, immunohistology and reverse-transcription–polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). Computer- and video-assisted morphometry performed at 4 and 7 weeks post-infection showed that treatment with L-NIL led to markedly increased number, cellularity and size of granulomatous lesions in infected mice regardless of the virulence of the M. avium isolate used for infection. Immunohistology of the liver revealed that in mice treated with L-NIL, the numbers of CD3+ T cells, CD21/35+ B cells, CD11b+ macrophages and RB6-8C5+ granulocytes associated with granulomatous lesions was increased. RT-PCR of the liver showed that in L-NIL-treated mice infected with M. avium, mRNA levels of tumour necrosis factor, interleukin-12p40, interferon-γ, interleukin-10 and interferon-γ-inducible protein-10 (IP-10) were up-regulated, while mRNA levels of interleukin-4, monocyte chemotactic protein-1 (MCP-1) and MCP-5 were similar to those in untreated control infected mice. When M. avium-infected mice were treated with 5 mm L-NIL between the 5th and 12th weeks of infection, similar changes in granuloma number and size were found in the absence of any effect on the bacterial load. These findings demonstrate that nitric oxide regulates the number, size and cellular composition of M. avium-induced granulomas independently of antibacterial effects by modulating the cytokine profile within infected tissues.