Constitulively active nitric oxide synthases (NOS) are a unique class of NADPH-dependent, calcium/ calmodulin-dependent enzymes that catalyze the conversion of L-arginlne to nitric oxide and L-citruliine. However, little is known about the molecular similarities or differences between the two prototypical constitutive NOS enzymes, endothelial NOS (ECNOS) and brain NOS (bNOS). The aims of this study were to begin characterizing the gene structure and tissue distribution of messenger RNAs (mRNAs) for ECNOS and bNOS and to examine the immunological resemblance of the proteins by Western blotting. Full-length complementary DNAs (cDNAs) encoding bovine ECNOS and rat bNOS hybridized, under high stringency, to different-si zed fragments or endonuclease-digested bovine, rat, and human genomic DNA. In addition, more than one fragment was detected with both cDNAs, suggesting that ECNOS and bNOS genes contained multiple introns. Tissue distribution of ECNOS mRNA (4.4 kb) and bNOS mRNA (9.5 kb) in the rat was detected by Northern blotting. Patterns among tissue extracts were strikingly different, with ECNOS mRNA being most abundant in aorta, heart, lung, kidney, adrenal gland, spinal cord, and urogenital tissues and bNOS mRNA most prominent in brain regions, intestine, stomach, spinal cord, adrenal gland, and aorta. Interestingly, ECNOS cDNA detected two equally abundant RNA transcripts (4.4 and 4.0 kb) in most brain regions tested, suggesting an alternative splicing of the ECNOS pre-mRNA. Western blotting, using an ECNOS monoclonal antibody, recognized ECNOS protein from native bovine endothelial ceils, cultured bovine endothelial cells, and COS cells transfected with ECNOS cDNA but did not recognize purified bNOS. Collectively, these data demonstrate that ECNOS and bNOS are encoded by different genes, expressed in distinct but overlapping tissues, and are immunologicalty different proteins. (Hypertension 1993;21:934-938) © 1993 American Heart Association, Inc.