Aortic rings isolated from rats 4 h after an injection i.p. of 30 mg/kg Escherichia coli lipopolysaccharide showed a marked hyporeactivity to noradrenaline. This effect was paralleled by an increase in the level of nitrite/nitrate in the serum of lipopolysaccharide-treated rats, indicative of an enhanced nitric oxide (NO) synthase activity. Most important, however, the serum concentration of the NO synthase intermediate, NG-hydroxy-L-arginine, was also markedly elevated from 3.7 to 15.8 microM. Circulating NG-hydroxy-L-arginine may thus represent a sensitive and specific marker of NO synthase activity in vivo.