Increased interest has recently been focused on nitric oxide (NO) due to its several biological roles. Apart from being a potential antimicrobial defense and a mediator of autoimmune diseases, NO also appears to be a strong mediator of T-cell responses. In this report, we have characterized the effect of NO on T-cell function. For this purpose, we analyzed in vivo T-cell responses to the bacterial superantigen produced by Staphylococcus aureus, staphylococcal enterotoxin B (SEB), in mice treated with an NO donor (isosorbide dinitrate [ISO]). We show that ISO partially prevents SEB-triggered activation-induced cell death of spleen and lymph node CD4Vbeta8+ T cells but not of CD8Vbeta8+ T cells. SEB-promoted thymic deletion is not abolished by ISO; however, a rapid recovery of thymocyte numbers due to increased double-positive (DP) CD4+ CD8+ thymocyte proliferation was clearly observed in ISO-treated, SEB-injected mice but not in controls (untreated SEB-injected mice). It was also found that ISO inhibits the early SEB-induced cell proliferation (i.e., that found 12 h after SEB injection), accelerating the clonal anergy usually observed 3 days after SEB injection. Inhibition of T-cell proliferation by the NO donor does not appear to be due to inhibition of cytokine production. These results show that NO interferes with apoptosis and facilitates thymic proliferation of DP thymocytes, although it inhibits peripheral T-cell proliferation.