L-Arginine is the only endogenous nitrogen-containing substrate of NO synthase (NOS), and it thus governs the production of NO during nervous system development as well as in disease states such as stroke, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, and HIV dementia. The "arginine paradox" refers to the dependence of cellular NO production on exogenous L-arginine concentration despite the theoretical saturation of NOS enzymes with intracellular L-arginine. Herein, we report that decreased availability of L-arginine blocked induction of NO production in cytokine-stimulated astrocytes, owing to inhibition of inducible NOS (iNOS) protein expression. However, activity of the promoter of the iNOS gene, induction of iNOS mRNA, and stability of iNOS protein were not inhibited under these conditions. Our results indicate that inhibition of iNOS activity by arginine depletion in stimulated astrocyte cultures occurs via inhibition of translation of iNOS mRNA. After stimulation by cytokines, uptake of L-arginine negatively regulates the phosphorylation status of the eukaryotic initiation factor (eIF2 alpha), which, in turn, regulates translation of iNOS mRNA. eIF2 alpha phosphorylation correlates with phosphorylation of the mammalian homolog of yeast GCN2 eIF2 alpha kinase. As the kinase activity of GCN2 is activated by phosphorylation, these findings suggest that GCN2 activity represents a proximal step in the iNOS translational regulation by availability of l-arginine. These results provide an explanation for the arginine paradox for iNOS and define a distinct mechanism by which a substrate can regulate the activity of its associated enzyme.