Although abnormal L-arginine NO signaling contributes to endothelial dysfunction in the aging cardiovascular system, the biochemical mechanisms remain controversial. L-arginine, the NO synthase (NOS) precursor, is also a substrate for arginase. We tested the hypotheses that arginase reciprocally regulates NOS by modulating L-arginine bioavailability and that arginase is upregulated in aging vasculature, contributing to depressed endothelial function. Inhibition of arginase with (S)-(2-boronoethyl)-L-cysteine, HCl (BEC) produced vasodilation in aortic rings from young (Y) adult rats (maximum effect, 46.4+/-9.4% at 10(-5) mol/L, P<0.01). Similar vasorelaxation was elicited with the additional arginase inhibitors N-hydroxy-nor-L-arginine (nor-NOHA) and difluoromethylornithine (DFMO). This effect required intact endothelium and was prevented by 1H-oxadiazole quinoxalin-1-one (P<0.05 and P<0.001, respectively), a soluble guanylyl cyclase inhibitor. DFMO-elicited vasodilation was greater in old (O) compared with Y rat aortic rings (60+/-6% versus 39+/-6%, P<0.05). In addition, BEC restored depressed L-arginine (10(-4) mol/L)-dependent vasorelaxant responses in O rings to those of Y. Arginase activity and expression were increased in O rings, whereas NOS activity and cyclic GMP levels were decreased. BEC and DFMO suppressed arginase activity and restored NOS activity and cyclic GMP levels in O vessels to those of Y. These findings demonstrate that arginase modulates NOS activity, likely by regulating intracellular L-arginine availability. Arginase upregulation contributes to endothelial dysfunction of aging and may therefore be a therapeutic target.