By measurements of NO2-/NO3- (NOx) production and Northern blot analysis, we studied the effects of a membrane-permeable cAMP derivative, 8-bromo-cAMP, on the expression of inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) gene and the synthesis of NOx in cultured rat vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs). 8-bromo-cAMP stimulated NOx production and increased steady-state levels of iNOS mRNA in rat VSMC in a time- and dose-dependent manner. NG-monomethyl-L-arginine, a NOS inhibitor, completely blocked the 8-bromo-cAMP-induced NOx production, whose effect was partially, but significantly reversed by an excess L-arginine, but not by D-arginine. Compounds that increase intracellular cAMP levels (cholera toxin, forskolin, and 3-isobutyl-1-methylxanthine), all stimulated NOx production. Dexamethasone inhibited the stimulated NOx production, as well as the induction of iNOS mRNA by cAMP. Both actinomycin D and cycloheximide completely blocked the stimulated NOx production by cAMP. Actinomycin D abolished the cAMP-induced iNOS mRNA, whereas cycloheximide remarkably increased iNOS mRNA levels in the presence and absence of 8-bromo-cAMP (superinduction). Actinomycin D, but not dexamethasone, completely abolished the cycloheximide-induced iNOS mRNA. The half-life of cAMP-induced iNOS mRNA was approximately 2 h, whereas no decay in the cycloheximide-induced iNOS mRNA was observed during 12 h. These results demonstrate that iNOS gene is upregulated by cAMP and the superinduction of iNOS mRNA is attributable to increased mRNA stability in rat VSMC.