The murine adenocarcinoma cell line TA 3 synthesized nitrite from L-arginine upon stimulation with gamma-interferon (IFN-gamma) associated with tumor necrosis factor (TNF), and/or bacterial lipopolysaccharide (LPS), but not with IFN-gamma, TNF, or LPS added separately. Induction of the NO2(-)-generating activity caused an inhibition of DNA synthesis in TA 3 cells. This inhibition was prevented by the L-arginine analog N omega-nitro-L-arginine, which inhibited under the same conditions nitrite production by TA 3 cells. The TA 3 M2 subclone, selected for enhanced ribonucleotide reductase activity, was found to be less sensitive than the wild phenotype TA 3 WT to the cytostatic activity mediated by the NO2(-)-generating system. Cytosolic preparations from TA 3 M2 cells treated for 24 or 48 h with IFN-gamma, TNF, and LPS exhibited a reduced ribonucleotide reductase activity, compared to untreated control cells. No reduction in ribonucleotide reductase activity was observed when N omega-nitro-L-arginine was added to treated cells. Addition of L-arginine, NADPH, and tetrahydrobiopterin into cytosolic extracts from 24-h treated TA 3 M2 cells triggered the synthesis of metabolic products from the NO2(-)-generating pathway. This resulted in a dramatic inhibition of the residual ribonucleotide reductase activity present in the extracts. The inhibition was reversed by NG-monomethyl-L-arginine, another specific inhibitor of the NO2(-)-generating activity. No L-arginine-dependent inhibition of ribonucleotide reductase activity was observed using extracts from untreated cells that did not express NO2(-)-generating activity. These results demonstrate that, in an acellular preparation, molecules derived from the NO2(-)-generating pathway exert an inhibitory effect on the ribonucleotide reductase enzyme. This negative action might explain the inhibition of DNA synthesis induced in adenocarcinoma cells by the NO2(-)-generating pathway.