Aim of the study was to assess the relative susceptibility to the development of nitroglycerin tolerance in the arterial and venous circulation in man and to evaluate the interactions between nitroglycerin and N-acetyl-cysteine. Twenty patients with coronary artery disease underwent a continuous 24-h nitroglycerin infusion followed by a bolus administration of N-acetylcysteine. Forearm blood flow (ml/lOOml/min) and venous volume (ml/l00 ml) were measured by strain gauge plethysmography under control conditions, at the end of nitroglycerin titration, after 24 h of infusion and after N-acetylcysteine; vascular resistance was calculated as mean cuff blood pressure/flow. After 24 h of nitroglycerin infusion, the initial increase in venous volume was reduced by 48 % (p < 0.01), while the acute effects on vascular resistance were not attenuated in the whole group. N-acetylcysteine restored nitroglycerin venodilator effects in all 10 patients who developed venous tolerance but did not change significantly vascular resistance in 5 patients in whom attenuation of the arterial effects was observed during the infusion period. In conclusion, the results indicate that the susceptibility to the development of nitrate tolerance in man is higher in the venous than in the arterial circulation and that the sulphy-dryl group donor N-acetylcysteine is more effective in reversing nitroglycerin tolerance in the venous than in the arterial circulation.