In cultured endothelial cells, incubation with TNF-alpha (50 ng/ml) for 72 h markedly reduced viability of endothelial cells. A 6-h pre-incubation with the nitric oxide (NO) donor linsidomine (SIN-1, 10-150 microM) protected endothelial cells in a concentration-dependent manner and increased viability by up to 59% of control. The unmetabolized parent compound molsidomine and the NO-free metabolite of SIN-1 3-morpholinoiminoacetonitrile (SIN-1C) were without cytoprotective effect. Cytoprotection by SIN-1 was completely abolished by the NO scavenger 2-phenyl-4,4,5,5, -tetramethylimidazoline-1-oxyl-3-oxide (PTIO, 30 microM). A cytoprotective effect comparable to SIN-1 was observed when preincubating the cells with dibutyryl cyclic GMP (10-100 microM). Moreover, no protection by SIN-1 occurred in the presence of cycloheximide (1 microM) or 1H--1,2,4-oxadiazole-4, 3-a-quinoxalin-1-one (ODQ, 0.1 microM), a selective inhibitor of soluble guanylyl cyclase. Tin protoporphyrin-IX (SnPP, 25 microM), an inhibitor of heme oxygenase, was found to attenuate SIN-1-induced cytoprotection. Our results demonstrate that SIN-1 produces a long-term endothelial protection against cellular injury by TNF-alpha, presumably via a cyclic GMP-dependent pathway leading to up-regulation of protective proteins such as heme oxygenase.