Nitric oxide may be a key mediator of excitotoxic neuronal injury in the central nervous system. We examined the effects of the neuronal nitric oxide synthase inhibitor 7-nitroindazole (7-NI) on excitotoxic striatal lesions. 7-NI significantly attenuated lesions produced by intrastriatal injections of NMDA, but not kainic acid or alpha-amino-3- hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid (AMPA) 7-NI attenuated secondary striatal excitotoxic lesions produced by the succinate dehydrogenase inhibitor malonate, and the protection was reversed by L- arginine but not by D-arginine, 7-NI produced nearly complete protection against striatal lesions produced by systemic administration of 3-nitropropionic acid (3-NP), another succinate dehydrogenase inhibitor, 7-NI protected against malonate induced decreases in ATP, and increases in lactate, as assessed by 1H magnetic resonance spectroscopy. 7-NI had no effects on spontaneous electrophysiologic activity in the striatum in vivo, suggesting that its effects were not mediated by an interaction with excitatory amino acid receptors. 7-NI attenuated increases in hydroxyl radical, 8-hydroxy-2-deoxyguanosine and 3-nitrotyrosine generation in vivo, which may be a consequence of peroxynitrite formation. The present results implicate neuronal nitric oxide generation in the pathogenesis of both direct and secondary excitotoxic neuronal injury in vivo. As such they suggest that neuronal nitric oxide synthase inhibitors may be useful in the treatment of neurologic diseases in which excitotoxic mechanisms play a role.