We evaluated the role of melatonin in endotoxemia caused by lipopolysaccharide (LPS) in unanesthetized rats. The expression of inducible isoform of nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) and the increase in the oxidative stress seem to be responsible for the failure of lungs, liver, and kidneys in endotoxemia. Bacterial LPS (10 mg/kg b. w) was i.v. injected 6 h before rats were killed and melatonin (10-60 mg/kg b.w.) was i.p. injected before and/or after LPS. Endotoxemia was associated with a significant rise in the serum levels of aspartate and alanine aminotransferases, gamma-glutamyl-transferase, alkaline phosphatase, creatinine, urea, and uric acid, and hence liver and renal dysfunction. LPS also increased serum levels of cholesterol and triglycerides and reduced glucose levels. Melatonin administration counteracted these organ and metabolic alterations at doses ranging between 20 and 60 mg/kg b. w. Melatonin significantly decreased lung lipid peroxidation and counteracted the LPS-induced NO levels in lungs and liver. Our results also show an inhibition of iNOS activity in rat lungs by melatonin in a dose-dependent manner. Expression of iNOS mRNA in lungs and liver was significantly decreased by melatonin (60 mg/kg b. w., 58-65%). We conclude that melatonin inhibits NO production mainly by inhibition of iNOS expression. The inhibition of NO levels may account for the protection of the indoleamine against LPS-induced endotoxemia in rats.