The neuronal nitric oxide (NO) synthase generates NO from arginine. NO mediates its physiological effects mainly by stimulating the synthesis of cyclic GMP. We have investigated the role of the arginine availability on the NMDA-induced cyclic GMP accumulation in immature rat brain slices. The effect of NMDA was blocked by the inhibitor of the NO synthase, NG-nitro-L-arginine, and by the antagonist of ionotropic non-NMDA receptors, 6-cyano-7-nitroquinoxaline-2,3-dione (CNQX). This inhibition was not due to a direct interaction of CNQX with the NMDA receptor, and it was overcome by the presence of exogenously applied arginine. CNQX also blocked the NMDA-evoked release of [3H]arginine from cerebellar slices. Moreover, the arginine uptake inhibitor L-lysine reduced the cyclic GMP response to NMDA significantly. Therefore, the extracellular arginine availability, which is dependent on the activation of ionotropic non-NMDA receptors, determines the rate of the NO biosynthesis by the neuronal NO synthase. Together with the reported release of arginine from glial cells upon activation of glial ionotropic non-NMDA receptors and the predominant glial localization of arginine, these data provide the first evidence of an essential role of the arginine transfer from glial cells to neurons for the biosynthesis of NO.