Nitric oxide (NO) is a biological mediator that, when produced by the type II (inducible) nitric oxide synthase (NOS), has been implicated in the pathophysiology of inflammatory diseases. To examine this putative role of NO, pleural inflammation was elicited in rats by the intrapleural injection of carrageenan (1 mg). A pleural exudate and cellular influx developed, which peaked at 24 h and generally resolved by 72 h. The cellular influx was primarily composed of polymorphonuclear cells during the first 24 h, followed by macrophages during the subsequent 24 h. Inflammatory cell-associated NOS activity and pleural exudate nitrite (NO2-) + nitrate (NO3-) (NOx) also increased, peaking at 6 h and 24 h, respectively. Cell-associated NOS activity was calcium-independent, indicating the presence of the type II NOS isoform; NOS activity in the pleural cavity and polymorphonuclear cells influx were temporally correlated. Administration of L-NG-monomethylarginine (L-NMA) (200 mg/kg/day) attenuated the pleural exudation, cellular influx, pleural exudate NOx, and cell-associated NOS activity. The relative composition of the pleural cavity cellular infiltrate was not changed by L-NMA, indicating the influx of individual cell types were affected equally. L-Arginine (500 mg/kg/day) completely prevented the effects of L-NMA on pleural exudation and cellular influx and partially prevented the inhibition of pleural exudate NOx accumulation by L-NMA. These data implicate NO as a modulator of the pleural inflammatory response and support a future clinical role for NOS inhibitors in the treatment of inflammatory disease.