To elucidate a possible involvement of nitric oxide in the development of a mesangial proliferative glomerulonephritis induced by anti-Thy-1 antibody administration, glomerular expression of three isoforms of NO synthase (NOS), inducible NOS (iNOS), brain NOS, and endothelial NOS, was examined at both mRNA and protein levels by ribonuclease protection assay and immunofluorescence microscopy. Light microscopy showed an accumulation of polymorphonuclear leukocytes at 1 hour, lysis of mesangial cells at 1 day, a mesangial proliferative lesion at 4 to 10 days, and minimal residual glomerular lesions by 28 days. Ribonuclease protection assay showed that the glomerular expression of iNOS mRNA peaked at 1 hour and decreased thereafter. No substantial expression of iNOS mRNA was observed in normal glomeruli or in the nephritic glomeruli obtained at different time points (1, 4, 10, or 28 days). By immunofluorescence microscopy with a specific monoclonal antibody, an intense reaction for iNOS was demonstrated in a few cells in the glomeruli at 1 hour. Most of the iNOS-positive cells were identified as polymorphonuclear leukocytes. iNOS-positive cells were found less frequently in the glomeruli on days 1 and 4. Endothelial NOS mRNA was constitutively expressed in normal glomeruli and increased biphasically with two peaks at 1 hour and at 4 days or later; however, the peak expression was much less than that of iNOS mRNA at 1 hour. Expression of brain NOS mRNA was not detectable in either normal or nephritic glomeruli. These results show that iNOS is predominantly expressed in polymorphonuclear leukocytes accumulating at 1 hour in the glomeruli of anti-Thy-1 glomerulonephritis and suggest an involvement of NO in the initiation of the disease.