Studies indicate that endotoxin (LPS) causes intestinal injury, increases inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) activity, leads to increased NO production, and promotes bacterial translocation (BT). To investigate the mechanism by which LPS causes gut injury and to test the hypothesis that NO produced by enterocytes promotes gut injury in an autocrine fashion, rat intestinal epithelial cell (IEC-6) monolayers were tested. IEC-6 monolayers grown in a bicameral system were incubated with media or with LPS (25 microg/mL) and tested for permeability to phenol red, BT, and nitrate/nitrite (NO2/NO3) production. To determine the direct effect of NO on permeability, monolayers were incubated with the NO donor S-nitroso-acetylpenicillinamide (SNAP; 1 mM) and tested for permeability. Next, the protective effects of two NOS inhibitors (L-NMMA and L-NIL) were tested. Finally, to determine if LPS-induced permeability occurs via a poly (ADP-ribose) synthetase- (PARS) dependent pathway, monolayers incubated with LPS alone or with the PARS inhibitor, INH2BP (100 microM) were tested. LPS significantly increased IEC-6 permeability to phenol red, as well as increased NO2/NO3 by 20-fold (P < 0.001) and increased BT 10-fold (P < 0.001). SNAP mimicked the effect of LPS and significantly increased both permeability to phenol red and BT. Inhibition of iNOS significantly decreased the LPS-induced increase in monolayer permeability and BT (P < 0.05). Monolayers incubated with INH2BP had significantly decreased permeability to phenol red and BT, suggesting that LPS-induced NO production increases monolayer permeability at least in part via a PARS-dependent mechanism. In summary, LPS-induced disruption of monolayer barrier function appears to be related, at least in part, to enterocyte produced NO. This supports the hypothesis that NO produced by LPS-stimulated enterocytes promotes injury in an autocrine fashion and highlights the fact that enterocytes can be a target as well as a producer of NO.