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ABSTRACT: The diffusible chemical messenger nitric oxide (NO) is involved in neuronal plasticity and it is, therefore, supposed to play a role in brain development. A shortage of NO during the critical period of brain maturation may theoretically have long-lasting consequences on the organization of the adult brain. We have performed in neonatal rats a chronic inhibition of the enzyme responsible for NO production, nitric oxide synthase (NOS), from postnatal day 3 to postnatal day 23, through administration of the competitive antagonist N-nitro-l-arginine methylester (l-NAME). The calcium-dependent catalytic activity resulted almost completely inhibited throughout the period of treatment and it took more than 4 days after its suspension to get a full recovery. The expression of the neuronal isoform of the enzyme (nNOS), revealed by immunoblotting, was unchanged during the treatment and after it. The histochemical reaction for NADPH diaphorase was reduced at the end of the treatment and recovered in concomitance with the recovery of the catalytic NOS activity. No gross structural alterations were detected in brain morphology. The levels of three neurotransmitter-related and one astrocytic marker were unchanged in the cerebellum, hippocampus and cortex of 60-day-old rats which had been neonatally treated. A similar lack of significant effects on neurochemical brain maturation was also noticed in a parallel series of experiments, in which a short pulse of NOS inhibition was performed at a critical prenatal time of brain development, from gestational day 14 to gestational day 19. In vitro, chronic exposure of cerebellar granule cells to l-NAME (500 μM) resulted in slight decrease of surviving neurons after 8 days in culture and in better resistance to the challenge of stressful culture conditions. The present results suggest that the basic plan of brain organization can be achieved despite an almost complete NOS inhibition during the maturation period. In vitro, NOS inhibition may bring to more pronounced consequences on neuronal viability and function.