The protective effect of L-arginine against reactive oxygen species-induced impairment of endothelium-dependent vasorelaxation was investigated in isolated ring preparations of rat aorta. The aortic rings were subjected to reactive oxygen species generated by the electrolysis of the bathing solution or incubation with H2O2. Endothelium-dependent relaxation in response to acetylcholine of precontracted aortic rings was attenuated when the rings were exposed to reactive oxygen species or H2O2. Incubation prior to electrolysis with either L-arginine, the endogenous precursor of nitric oxide (NO), or sodium nitroprusside, an exogenous donor of NO, protected the aortic rings against the impairment of endothelium-dependent relaxation. However, D-arginine and glycine, amino acids which do not produce NO, also afforded protection in this model. Therefore, not only the increased synthesis of NO but also the oxidation of L-arginine, with concomitant disproportionation of reactive oxygen species, may be responsible for the protective effect against reactive oxygen species-induced loss of the endothelial response to acetylcholine in isolated rat aorta.