The association of nitric oxide (NO) with cardiovascular disease has long been recognized and the extensive research on this topic has revealed both pro- and anti-atherosclerotic effects. While these contradictory findings were initially perplexing recent studies offer molecular mechanisms for the integration of these data in the context of our current understanding of the biochemistry of NO. The essential findings are that the biochemical properties of NO allow its exploitation as both a cell signaling molecule, through its interaction with redox centers in heme proteins, and an extremely rapid reaction with other biologically relevant free radicals. The direct reaction of NO with free radicals can have either pro- or antioxidant effects. In the cell, antioxidant properties of NO can be greatly amplified by the activation of signal transduction pathways that lead to the increased synthesis of endogenous antioxidants or down regulate responses to pro- inflammatory stimuli. These findings will be discussed in the context of atherosclerosis. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science B.V.