The nitrovasodilators are a diverse group of pharmacological agents that produce vascular relaxation by releasing nitric oxide. The mechanisms by which these compounds release nitric oxide vary, depending on their chemical structure. Compounds with lower oxidation states of nitrogen such as nitroprusside, nitrosamines, and nitrosothiols release nitric oxide nonenzymatically. In the case of nitroprusside, this involves a one-electron reduction that may occur upon exposure to a variety of reducing agents and tissues such as vascular smooth muscle membranes. In the case of the organic nitrates, which have higher oxidation states of nitrogen, the release of nitric oxide in vascular tissue occurs predominantly by a poorly understood enzymatic process. This interesting property of nitroglycerin is important because it "targets" its effect to vascular tissues that are capable of this enzymatic process. In the case of the coronary circulation, nitroglycerin predominantly dilates the larger coronary arteries while having a minimal effect on coronary resistance vessels < 100 microns in diameter. This prevents the development of coronary steal, which is often encountered with agents that produce intense vasodilation of the coronary resistance vessels. In this review, the mechanisms by which the nitrovasodilators (particularly nitroglycerin) release nitric oxide will be considered, and recent studies of nitroglycerin bioconversion in various-sized coronary vessels will be discussed in detail.