Recent work has shown that nitric oxide (NO) acts as an important mediator of the effects of proinflammatory cytokines and mechanical strain in bone. Although several bone-derived cells have been shown to produce NO in vitro, less is known about the isoforms of NO synthase (NOS), which are expressed in bone or their cellular distribution. Here we investigated the expression, cellular localization, and regulation of NOS mRNA and protein in cultured bone-derived cells and in bone tissue sections. We failed to detect inducible NOS (iNOS) protein in normal bone using immunohistochemical techniques, even though low levels of iNOS mRNA were detected by sensitive reverse transcribed polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) assays in RNA extracted from whole bone samples. Cytokine stimulation of bone-derived cells and bone explant cultures caused dramatic induction of iNOS mRNA and protein in osteoblasts and bone marrow macrophages, but no evidence of iNOS expression was seen in osteoclasts by immunohistochemistry or in situ hybridization. Endothelial NOS (ecNOS) mRNA was also detected by RT-PCR in whole bone, and immunohistochemical studies showed widespread ecNOS expression in bane marrow cells and trabecular lining cells in vivo. Related studies in vitro confirmed that ecNOS was expressed in cultured osteoblasts, stromal cells, and osteoclasts. Neuronal NOS mRNA was detected by RT-PCR in whole bone, but we were unable to detect nNOS protein in bone cells in vivo or in studies of cultured bone-derived cells in vitro. In summary, our data show that mRNAs for all three NOS isoforms are expressed in bone and provide evidence for differential expression and regulation of the enzymes in different cell types. These findings confirm the likely importance of the L- arginine-NO pathway as a physiological mediator of bone cell function and demonstrate that it may be possible to exert differential effects on osteoblast and osteoclast activity in vivo by differential targeting of constitutive and inducible NOS isoforms by selective NOS inhibitors.