In the vasculature it is well established that cGMP is involved in the relaxant response to nitric oxide (NO) and NO donors. However, there is an increasing evidence that alternative/additional pathways that are cGMP-independent may also exist. A key criterion for a response to NO or a NO donor drug to be classified as cGMP-independent is lack of (or incomplete) inhibition by the selective inhibitor of soluble guanylate cyclase, ODQ (1H-[1,2,4]oxadiazole[4,3-a]quinoxalin-1-one). In many blood vessels cGMP-independent mechanisms contribute to the vasorelaxation, and in certain vascular beds cGMP-independent relaxation may be the predominant mechanism of action of NO and NO donors. NO donor drugs that generate NO "spontaneously", like authentic NO (i.e. solutions of NO gas), appear to exhibit a larger component of cGMP-independent vasorelaxation than do those drugs that require bioactivation in the tissue. The long lasting inhibition of responses to vasoconstrictors by S-nitrosothiols, persisting after removal of these NO donors, may be a cGMP-independent process, at least in some vessels. The mechanisms involved in the inhibition of vascular growth by NO and NO donors are predominantly cGMP-independent, as are the mechanisms responsible for the effects of NO donors on apoptosis in vascular smooth muscle and endothelial cells. The ability of NO and NO donors to inhibit platelet aggregation has a significant cGMP-independent component. cGMP-independent pathways are most often, though not exclusively, seen at high concentrations (microM - mM) of NO and NO donors. Hence, in relation to the actions of endogenous NO, these pathways may be particularly important in settings when the inducible isoform of NO-synthase is expressed. Furthermore, cGMP-independent pathways are enhanced in animal models of atherosclerosis and ischaemia. This suggests that it may be possible to target cGMP-independent mechanisms with selected NO donors in disease states.