Some aspects of the physiological role of NO may be mediated by stable NO-carriers such as S-nitrosoglutathione and related S-nitrosothiols. In this report we show that irradiation of S-nitrosoglutathione at either absorption band (lambda max = 340 nm or 545 nm) results in the release of nitric oxide. Photolysis of S-nitrosoglutathione at 545 nm exhibited a quantum yield of 0.056 +/- 0.002 and was best approximated by a first-order process with kobs = 4.9 x 10(-7) +/- 0.3 x 10(-7) s-1. The photolytic release of NO from S-nitrosoglutathione resulted in an enhanced cytotoxic effect of S-nitrosoglutathione on HL-60 leukemia cells. That the cytotoxic effect of S-nitrosoglutathione was diminished by the addition of oxyhemoglobin strongly suggests that NO is the cytotoxic species. The finding that NO can be readily liberated from S-nitrosoglutathione by visible radiation indicates that the photochemical properties of this compound in the visible spectrum must be considered in order to obtain meaningful data as to its physiological role and the S-nitrosoglutathione and related compounds may find use as photochemotherapeutic agents.