Helicobacter pylori infection of the stomach causes an active immune response that includes stimulation of inducible nitric oxide (NO) synthase (iNOS) expression. Although NO can kill H. pylori, the bacterium persists indefinitely, suggesting that NO production is inadequate. We determined if the NO derived from iNOS in macrophages was dependent on the availability of its substrate, L-arginine (L-Arg). Production of NO by H. pylori-stimulated RAW 264.7 cells was dependent on the L-Arg concentration in the culture medium, and the 50% effective dose for L-Arg was 220 microM, which is above reported plasma L-Arg levels. While iNOS mRNA induction was L-Arg independent, iNOS protein increased in an L-Arg-dependent manner that did not involve changes in iNOS protein degradation. L-lysine, an inhibitor of L-Arg uptake, attenuated H. pylori-stimulated iNOS protein expression, translation, NO levels, and killing of H. pylori. While L-Arg starvation suppressed global protein translation, at concentrations of L-Arg at which iNOS protein was only minimally expressed in response to H. pylori, global translation was fully restored and eukaryotic translation initiation factor alpha was dephosphorylated. H. pylori lacking the gene rocF, which codes for a bacterial arginase, induced higher levels of NO production by increasing iNOS protein levels. When murine gastric macrophages were activated with H. pylori, supraphysiologic levels of L-Arg were required to permit iNOS protein expression and NO production. These findings indicate that L-Arg is rate limiting for iNOS translation and suggest that the levels of L-Arg that occur in vivo do not permit sufficient NO generation by the host to kill H. pylori.