The membrane-permeant gas NO is a putative intercellular messenger that has been proposed on the basis of previous in vitro studies to be involved in synaptic plasticity, especially the induction of long-term potentiation (LTP) of excitatory synaptic transmission in the hippocampus and cortex. In the present study, the role of NO in synaptic plasticity has been investigated in vivo. In particular, the action of the novel and selective neuronal NO synthase (nNOS) inhibitor 7-nitro-indazole (7-NI) has been investigated on the induction of LTP and depotentiation (DP) of field EPSPs in CA1 of the hippocampus in vivo. Unlike previously studied nonselective NOS inhibitors, 7-NI does not increase arterial blood pressure. In vehicle-injected rats, high- frequency stimulation consisting of a series of trains at 200 Hz induced LTP. However, LTP induction was strongly inhibited in 7-NI (30 mg/kg, i.p.)-treated animals. The inhibitory effect of 7-NI on the induction of LTP was prevented by pretreatment with L-arginine, the substrate amino acid used by NOS. In control animals, low-frequency stimulation consisting of 900 stimuli at 10 Hz induced DP of previously established LTP, whereas in 7-HI-treated animals only a short-term depression was induced. This effect of 7-NI also was prevented by D- arginine. The LTP and DP induced in control animals in this study were NMDA receptor-dependent, the NMDA receptor antagonist 3-(R,S)-2- carboxypiperazin-4-yl-propyl-1- phosphonic acid inhibiting the induction of both forms of synaptic plasticity. The present experiments are the first to demonstrate that an NOS inhibitor blocks the induction of the synaptic component of LTP and DP in vivo and, therefore, these results strengthen evidence that the production of NO is necessary for the induction of LTP and DP.