Developmental changes in the lung occur at birth, allowing for the transition from placental to air breathing. Here we have measured nitric oxide synthase (NOS) activity in the porcine lung pre and post partum. NOS activity, which was predominantly calcium dependent, was low in full term fetal tissue compared to that present in lungs from the newborn (5 minutes post partum), 1, 3, 6 and 14 day old animals. No increase in activity was seen when fetal pigs were allowed to breathe for 5 minutes. Specific activity remained low in fetal tissue following partial purification. By contrast, levels of NOS III protein in tissue extracts and in pulmonary arterial endothelial cells, demonstrated by immunohistochemistry, were similar in tissue from the fetal and newborn animals. Thus NOS activity is significantly lower in fetal when compared to postnatal lung tissue despite comparable amounts of NOS III protein being expressed, and birth is followed by an abrupt increase in enzyme activity in animals born at term which correlates with an increase in protein expression. © 2002 Elsevier Science Inc. All rights reserved.