Nitric oxide mediates a wide array of cellular functions in many tissues. It is generated by three known isoforms of nitric oxide synthases (NOS). Recently, the endothelial isoform, NOSIII, was shown to be abundantly expressed in the rat thyroid gland and its expression increased in goitrous glands. In this study, we analyzed whether NOSIII is expressed in human thyroid tissue and whether levels of expression vary in different states of thyroid gland function. Semiquantitative RT-PCR was used to assess variations in NOSIII gene expression in seven patients with Graves' disease, one with a TSH-receptor germline mutation and six hypothyroid patients (Hashimoto's thyroiditis). Protein expression and subcellular localization were determined by immunohistochemistry (two normal thyroids, five multinodular goiters, ten hyperthyroid patients and two hypothyroid patients). NOSIII mRNA was detected in all samples: the levels were significantly higher in tissues from hyperthyroid patients compared with euthyroid and hypothyroid patients. NOSIII immunoreactivity was detected in vascular endothelial cells, but was also found in thyroid follicular cells. In patients with Graves' disease, the immunostaining was diffusely enhanced in all follicular cells. A more intense signal was observed in toxic adenomas and in samples obtained from a patient with severe hyperthyroidism due to an activating mutation in the TSH receptor. In multinodular goiters, large follicles displayed a weak signal whereas small proliferative follicles showed intense immunoreactivity near the apical plasma membrane. In hypothyroid patients, NOSIII immunoreactivity was barely detectable. In summary, NOSIII is expressed both in endothelial cells and thyroid follicular cells. The endothelial localization of NOSIII is consistent with a role for nitric oxide in the vascular control of the thyroid. NOSIII expression in thyroid follicular cells and the variations in its immunoreactivity suggest a possible role for nitric oxide in thyrocyte function and/or growth.