Biosynthesis of nitric oxide (NO) from L-arginine modulates activity of iron-dependent enzymes, including mitochondrial acontiase, an [Fe-S] protein. We examined the effect of NO on the activity of iron regulatory factor (IRF), a cytoplasmic protein which modulates both ferritin mRNA translation and transferrin receptor mRNA stability by binding to specific mRNA sequences called iron responsive elements (IREs). Murine macrophages were activated with interferon-gamma and lipopolysaccharide to induce NO synthase activity and cultured in the presence or absence of NG-substituted analogues of L-arginine which served as selective inhibitors of NO synthesis. Measurement of the nitrite concentration in the culture medium was taken as an index of NO production. Mitochondria-free cytosols were then prepared and aconitase activity as well as IRE binding activity and induction of IRE binding activity were correlated and depended on NO synthesis after IFN-gamma and/or LPS stimulation. Authentic NO gas as well as the NO-generating compound 3-morpholinosydnonimine (SIN-1) also conversely modulated aconitase and IRE binding activities of purified recombinant IRF. These results provide evidence that endogenously produced NO may modulate the post-transcriptional regulation of genes involved in iron homeostasis and support the hypothesis that the [Fe-S] cluster of IRF mediates iron-dependent regulation.