The inducible isoform of nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) and three zinc tetrathiolate mutants (C104A, C109A, and C104A/C109A) were expressed in Escherichia coli and purified. The mutants were found by ICP-AES and the zinc-specific PAR colorimetric assay to be zinc free, whereas the wild-type iNOS zinc content was 0.38 +/- 0.01 mol of Zn/mol of iNOS dimer. The cysteine mutants (C104A and C109A) had an activity within error of wild-type iNOS (2.24 +/- 0.12 micromol of NO min(-1) mg(-1)), but the double cysteine mutant had a modestly decreased activity (1.75 +/- 0.14 micromol of NO min(-1) mg(-1)). To determine if NO could stimulate release of zinc and dimer dissociation, wild-type protein was allowed to react with an NO donor, DEA/NO, followed by buffer exchange. ICP-AES of samples treated with 10 microM DEA/NO showed a decrease in zinc content (0.23 +/- 0.01 to 0.09 +/- 0.01 mol of Zn/mol of iNOS dimer) with no loss of heme iron. Gel filtration of wild-type iNOS treated similarly resulted in approximately 20% more monomeric iNOS compared to a DEA-treated sample. Only wild-type iNOS had decreased activity (42 +/- 2%) after reaction with 50 microM DEA/NO compared to a control sample. Using the biotin switch method under the same conditions, only wild-type iNOS had increased levels of S-biotinylation. S-Biotinylation was mapped to C104 and C109 on wild-type iNOS using LysC digestion and MALDI-TOF/TOF MS. Immunoprecipitation of iNOS from the mouse macrophage cell line, RAW-264.7, and the biotin switch method were used to confirm endogenous S-nitrosation of iNOS. The data show that S-nitrosation of the zinc tetrathiolate cysteine results in zinc release from the dimer interface and formation of inactive monomers, suggesting that this mode of inhibition might occur in vivo.