Vasodilation is one of the most prominent effects of adenosine and one of the first to be recognized, but its mechanism of action is not completely understood. In particular, there is conflicting information about the potential contribution of endothelial factors. The purpose of this study was to explore the role of nitric oxide in the vasodilatory effect of adenosine. Forearm blood flow responses to intrabrachial adenosine infusion (125 microg/min) were assessed with venous occlusion plethysmography during intrabrachial infusion of saline or the nitric oxide synthase inhibitor NG-monomethyl-L-arginine (L-NMMA) (12.5 mg/min). Intrabrachial infusions of acetylcholine (50 microg/min) and nitroprusside (3 microg/min) were used as a positive and negative control, respectively. These doses were chosen to produce comparable levels of vasodilation. In a separate study, a second saline infusion was administered instead of L-NMMA to rule out time-related effects. As expected, pretreatment with L-NMMA reduced acetylcholine-induced vasodilation; 50 microg/min acetylcholine increased forearm blood flow by 150+/-43% and 51+/-12% during saline and L-NMMA infusion, respectively (P<.01, n=6). In contrast, L-NMMA did not affect the increase in forearm blood flow produced by 3 microg/min nitroprusside (165+/-30% and 248+/-41% during saline and L-NMMA, respectively) or adenosine (173+/-48% and 270+/-75% during saline and L-NMMA, respectively). On the basis of our observations, we conclude that adenosine-induced vasodilation is not mediated by nitric oxide in the human forearm.