The role of nitric oxide (NO) in the increase in local cerebral blood flow (LCBF) elicited by focal cortical epileptic seizures was investigated in anesthetized adult rats. Seizures were induced by topical bicuculline methiodide applied through two cranial windows drilled over homotopic sites of the frontal cortex, and LCBF was measured by quantitative autoradiography by using 4-iodo[N-methyl-14C]antipyrine. Superfusion of an inhibitor of NO synthase, N omega-nitro-L-arginine (NA; 1 mM), for 45 min abolished the increase of LCBF induced by topical bicuculline methiodide (10 mM) [164 +/- 18 ml/100 g per min in the artificial cerebrospinal fluid (aCSF)-superfused side and 104 +/- 12 ml/100 g per ml in the NA-superfused side; P < 0.005]. This effect was reversed by coapplication of an excess of L-arginine substrate (10 mM) (218 +/- 22 ml/100 g per min in the aCSF-superfused side and 183 +/- 31 ml/100 g per min in the NA + L-Arg-superfused side) but not by 10 mM D-arginine, a stereoisomer with poor affinity for NO synthase (193 +/- 17 ml/100 g per min in the aCSF-superfused side and 139 +/- 21 ml/100 g per min in the NA + D-Arg-superfused side; P < 0.005). Superfusion of the guanylyl cyclase inhibitor methylene blue attenuated the LCBF increase elicited by topical bicuculline methiodide by 25% +/- 16% (P < 0.05). The present findings suggest that NO is the mediator of the vasodilation in response to focal epileptic seizures.