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The hypothesis that decreases in brain blood flow during respiration of hyperbaric oxygen result from inactivation of nitric oxide (NO) by superoxide anions (O2-) is proposed. Changes in brain blood flow were assessed in conscious rats during respiration of atmospheric air or oxygen at a pressure of 4 atm after dismutation of O2- with superoxide dismutase or suppression of NO synthesis with the NO synthase inhibitor L-NAME. I.v. administration of superoxide dismutase increased brain blood flow in rats breathing air but was ineffective after previous inhibition of NO synthase. Hyperbaric oxygenation at 4 atm induced decreases in brain blood flow, though prior superoxide dismutase prevented hyperoxic vasoconstriction and increased brain blood flow in rats breathing hyperbaric oxygen. The vasodilatory effect of superoxide dismutase in hyperbaric oxygenation was not seen in animals given prior doses of the NO synthase inhibitor. These results provide evidence that one mechanism for hyperoxic vasoconstriction in the brain consists of inactivation of NO by superoxide anions, decreasing its basal vasorelaxing action.