Nitric oxide (NO) is recognized as one of the major players in various biochemical processes, including blood pressure, neurotransmission and immune responses. However, experimental studies involving NO are often limited by difficulties associated with the use of NO gas, including its toxicity and precise control over NO concentration. Moreover, the reactions of NO with biological molecules, which frequently occur on time scales of microseconds or faster, are limited by the millisecond time scale of conventional stopped-flow techniques. Here we present a new approach for studying rapid biological reactions involving NO. The method is based on designed ruthenium and manganese nitrosyls, [Ru(PaPy3)(NO)](BF4)2 and [Mn(PaPy3)(NO)](ClO4) (PaPy3H = N,N-bis(2-pyridylmethyl)amine-N-ethyl-2-pyridine-2-carboxamide), which upon photolysis produce NO on a fast time scale. The kinetics of the binding of the photogenerated NO to reduced cytochrome c oxidase (CcO) and myoglobin (Mb) was investigated using time-resolved optical absorption spectroscopy. The NO was found to bind to reduced CcO with an apparent lifetime of 77 micros using the [Mn(PaPy3)(NO)]+ complex; the corresponding rate is 10-20 times faster than can be detected by conventional stopped-flow methods. Second-order rate constants of approximately 1 x 10(8) M(-1) s(-1) and approximately 3 x 10(7) M(-1) s(-1) were determined for NO binding to reduced CcO and Mb, respectively. The generation of NO by photolysis of these complexes circumvents the rate limitation of stopped-flow techniques and offers a novel alternative to study other fast biological reactions involving NO.