The purpose of the present study was to test the hypothesis that restenosis is associated with decreased constitutive nitric oxide synthase activity. Male miniswine with moderately elevated serum cholesterol levels underwent cardiac catheterization and oversized balloon injury to the right and left circumflex coronary arteries, followed 2 weeks later by repeat injury on the same coronary segments. After 4 weeks, the coronary arteries were either immediately frozen in liquid nitrogen or pressure-perfusion fixed and prepared for histologic examination. Constitutive nitric oxide synthase activity was quantified using a fibroblast reporter cell method, while constitutive nitric oxide synthase protein was compared between balloon-injured and non-balloon-injured arteries using Western blot analysis. Immunohistochemical studies were performed using a specific antibody against constitutive nitric oxide synthase protein. Following balloon injury, there was decreased constitutive nitric oxide synthase activity in balloon-injured coronary arteries, compared to distal non-balloon-injured segments from the same artery. Histological examination demonstrated an intact endothelium. Specific antibody staining revealed that there was less constitutive nitric oxide synthase protein reactivity by immunohistochemical analysis. Western analysis confirmed less constitutive nitric oxide synthase protein. The data are consistent with the hypothesis that restenosis is associated with decreased endothelial cell nitric oxide production. The data suggest this is secondary to a decreased amount of constitutive nitric oxide synthase enzyme in the endothelium. A deficiency in constitutive nitric oxide synthase enzyme may contribute to the impaired second messenger and paracrine functions of the endothelium observed;during restenosis following balloon injury, including abnormal vasomotion, extracellular matrix formation, and platelet aggregation.