Vascular endothelial cells produce various biologically active factors regulating blood pressure, coagulation, and possibly cell growth of the vascular wall. Of the factors, nitric oxide (NO) has been the object of attention because of its quite simple molecular structure and variety of biological functions. In the present review, we focused on the physiologic and pathologic aspects of NO in hypertension. In experimental animals, both acute and chronic inhibition of NO synthase (NOS) with arginine derivatives produce a significant rise in blood pressure, indicating that tonic production of NO regulates basal vascular tonus. The chronic hypertension caused by NOS inhibitor is associated with cardiac hypertrophy and renal insufficiency. Sodium retention, though transient, and the plasma and tissue renin/angiotensin system in addition to the reduced production of NO have been implicated in the development of hypertension. Hypertension and the associated target organ failure can be reversed by co-administration of L-arginine or blockades of the renin/angiotensin system. Studies in which L-arginine as the substrate of NO or NOS inhibitor was administered demonstrated an important role of NO in the regulation of tonic vascular tonus also in normal subjects. In hypertensive subjects, however, endothelium-dependent vasorelaxation and production of NO are impaired, possibly due to a deficiency of L-arginine and/or a disorder of its utilization. Recent advances in the methods of detecting NO enabled us to demonstrate its diminished production from endothelial cells of hypertensive rats in vitro, although no definite biochemical evidence has been obtained in hypertensive subjects. The endothelial dysfunction, however, is not a primary cause of hypertension but a secondary result since it is commonly observed in various types of hypertension and can be reversed by correcting the blood pressure. Other common diseases including atherosclerosis and diabetes mellitus are also associated with similar abnormalities of the endothelium. NO has anti-atherogenic actions: inhibition of platelet functions and proliferation of vascular smooth muscle cells. Therefore, potentiation of endogenous NO and/or supplement of exogenous NO donors could be novel therapeutic approaches for the treatment of hypertension and atherosclerosis, while potential adverse effects of NO including cytotoxicity, immunosuppressibility, and hypotensive shock should be taken into account.