We have previously demonstrated that primary astrocyte cultures from neonatal rat cortex and C6 glioma cells express a calcium-independent nitric oxide synthase (NOS) on induction with bacterial endotoxin (lipopolysaccharide, LPS). One hypothesis regarding the mechanism of the LPS induction is that it causes release of cytokines from these cells which then induce the enzyme directly. Such cytokine induction of NOS has been demonstrated in many extraneural cell types. l-Arginine-dependent increases in cyclic GMP correlate with smaller increases in accumulation of nitrite, the major oxidation product of nitric oxide, and hence can serve as a more sensitive measure of nitric oxide production. Here we provide evidence that interferon-γ (IFN-γ), interleukin (IL)-1β and tumour necrosis factor-α induce l-arginine-dependent cyclic GMP synthesis in C6 cells and that a combination of IFN-γ and IL-1β induce l-arginine-dependent cyclic GMP synthesis in astrocyte cultures, indicating that these cytokines induce NOS. In both cell types the induction by cytokines was less sensitive to inhibition by dexamethasone, IL-10 and IL-4 than was induction by LPS. These data suggest that cytokines can also induce a NOS in glial cells and that the mechanism of this induction may be more direct than that of LPS, since it is less sensitive to modulation by immunosuppressors. Due to the close associations of astrocytes with neurons and microvasculature, cytokine-induced NOS could have potentially important pathophysiological effects in the central nervous system.