Endothelial dysfunction and increased arterial stiffness contribute to multiple vascular diseases and are hallmarks of cardiovascular aging. To investigate the effects of aging on shear stress-induced endothelial nitric oxide (NO) signaling and aortic stiffness, we studied young (3-4 mo) and old (22-24 mo) rats in vivo and in vitro. Old rat aorta demonstrated impaired vasorelaxation to acetylcholine and sphingosine 1-phosphate, while responses to sodium nitroprusside were similar to those in young aorta. In a customized flow chamber, aortic sections preincubated with the NO-sensitive dye, 4-amino-5-methylamino-2′,7′-difluorofluorescein diacetate, were subjected to steady-state flow with shear stress increase from 0.4 to 6.4 dyn/cm2. In young aorta, this shear step amplified 4-amino-5-methylamino-2′,7′-difluorofluorescein fluorescence rate by 70.6 ± 13.9%, while the old aorta response was significantly attenuated (23.6 ± 11.3%, P < 0.05). Endothelial NO synthase (eNOS) inhibition, by NG-monomethyl-L-arginine, abolished any fluorescence rate increase. Furthermore, impaired NO production was associated with a significant reduction of the phosphorylated-Akt-to-total-Akt ratio in aged aorta (P < 0.05). Correspondingly, the phosphorylated-to-total-eNOS ratio in aged aortic endothelium was markedly lower than in young endothelium (P < 0.001). Lastly, pulse wave velocity, an in vivo measure of vascular stiffness, in old rats (5.99 ± 0.191 m/s) and in Nω-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester-treated rats (4.96 ± 0.118 m/s) was significantly greater than that in young rats (3.64 ± 0.068 m/s, P < 0.001). Similarly, eNOS-knockout mice demonstrated higher pulse wave velocity than wild-type mice (P < 0.001). Thus impaired Akt-dependent NO synthase activation is a potential mechanism for decreased NO bioavailability and endothelial dysfunction, which likely contributes to age-associated vascular stiffness. Copyright © 2006 the American Physiological Society.