This study evaluated whether nitric oxide (NO) derived from nitric oxide synthase (NOS) induced by radiation is associated with tumorigenesis in the mammary glands. When rats were exposed to whole-body irradiation with gamma-rays (1.5 Gy) immediately after weaning and then treated with diethylstilbestrol, as an irradiated control, the tumor incidence (85%) was increased 7.6-fold in comparison with that (11.1%) of the non-irradiated control. The tumor incidence declined to 28.6% in the rats injected intraperitoneally with phenyl-N-tert-butylnitrone (PBN, 160 mg/kg), an inhibitor of inducible NOS (iNOS) expression and also a spin trapping agent, 30 min before irradiation. Also, the tumor incidence (25%) in rats orally administered with N-(3-(aminomethyl)-benzyl)-acetamide (1400W, 2.3+/-0.1 mg/day), a highly selective inhibitor of iNOS, dissolved in drinking water for 3 days after the irradiation was less than one-third of that in the irradiated control. On treatment with PBN or 1400W, no adenocarcinoma developed. Many of the mammary tumors that developed in the irradiated rats were positive for the estrogen receptor (ER). In contrast, ER was not detected in the tumors yielded from irradiated rats administered with PBN or 1400W. These results indicate that iNOS-derived NO may participate in the formation of estrogen-dependent mammary adenocarcinomas following radiation.