Haem is used as a versatile receptor for redox active molecules; most notably NO (nitric oxide) and oxygen. Three haem-containing proteins, myoglobin, haemoglobin and cytochrome c oxidase, are now known to bind NO, and in all these cases competition with oxygen plays an important role in the biological outcome. NO also binds to the haem group of sGC (soluble guanylate cyclase) and initiates signal transduction through the formation of cGMP in a process that is oxygen-independent. From biochemical studies, it has been shown that sGC is substantially more sensitive to NO than is cytochrome c oxidase, but a direct comparison in a cellular setting under various oxygen levels has not been reported previously. In this issue of the Biochemical Journal, Cadenas and co-workers reveal how oxygen can act as the master regulator of the relative sensitivity of the cytochrome c oxidase and sGC signalling pathways to NO. These findings have important implications for our understanding of the interplay between NO and oxygen in both physiology and the pathology of diseases associated with hypoxia.