The macrophage cell line RAW 264.7 when activated with Escherichia coli lipopolysaccharide and interferon-gamma synthesized nitrite (NO3-) and nitrate (NO3-). Medium change after the activation showed that L-arginine was the only amino acid essential for this synthesis. D-Arginine would not substitute for L-arginine. Other analogues that could replace L-arginine were L-homoarginine, L-arginine methyl ester, L-arginamide, and the peptide L-arginyl-L-aspartate. L-Argininic acid, L-agmatine, L-ornithine, urea, L-citrulline, and ammonia were among the nonprecursors, while L-canavanine inhibited this L-arginine-derived NO2-/NO3- synthesis. When morpholine was added to the culture medium of the activated RAW 264.7 macrophages, N-nitrosation took place, generating N-nitrosomorpholine. GC/MS experiments using L-[guanido-15N2]arginine established that the NO2-/NO3- and the nitrosyl group of N-nitrosomorpholine were derived exclusively from one or both of the terminal guanido nitrogens of arginine. Chromatographic analysis showed that the other product of the L-arginine synthesis of NO2-/NO3- was L-citrulline. The role of the respiratory burst in NO2-/NO3- synthesis was examined using the macrophage cell lines J774.16 and J774 C3C. Both cell lines synthesized similar amounts of NO2-/NO3-. However, J774 C3C cells do not produce superoxide and hence do not exhibit the respiratory burst. Additional experiments also ruled out the involvement of the respiratory burst in NO2-/NO3- synthesis.