Vascular tolerance to nitroglycerin (GTN) may be caused by impaired GTN bioactivation due to inactivation of mitochondrial aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH2). As relaxation to GTN is reduced but still sensitive to ALDH2 inhibitors in ascorbate deficiency, we compared the contribution of ALDH2 inactivation to GTN hyposensitivity in ascorbate deficiency and classical in vivo nitrate tolerance. Guinea pigs were fed standard or ascorbate-free diet for 2 weeks. Reversibility was tested by feeding ascorbate-deficient animals standard diet for 1 week. Nitrate tolerance was induced by subcutaneous injection of 50 mg x kg(-1) GTN 4 times daily for 3 days. Ascorbate levels were determined in plasma, blood vessels, heart and liver. GTN-induced relaxation was measured as isometric tension of aortic rings; vascular GTN biotransformation was assayed as formation of 1,2- and 1,3-glyceryl dinitrate (GDN). Two weeks of ascorbate deprivation had no effect on relaxation to nitric oxide but reduced the potency of GTN approximately 10-fold in a fully reversible manner. GTN-induced relaxation was similarly reduced in nitrate tolerance but not further attenuated by ALDH inhibitors. Nitrate tolerance reduced ascorbate plasma levels without affecting ascorbate in blood vessels, liver and heart. GTN denitration was significantly diminished in nitrate-tolerant and ascorbate-deficient rings. However, while the approximately 10-fold preferential 1,2-GDN formation, indicative for active ALDH2, had been retained in ascorbate deficiency, selectivity was largely lost in nitrate tolerance. These results indicate that nitrate tolerance is associated with ALDH2 inactivation, whereas ascorbate deficiency possibly results in down-regulation of ALDH2 expression.