Nitric oxide (NO) acts as a signaling molecule in many cellular responses in plants and animals. Oat plants (Avena sativa L.) evoke the hypersensitive response (HR), which shares morphological and biochemical features with mammalian apoptosis, such as DNA laddering and heterochromatin condensation, in response to the avirulent crown rust fungus (Puccinia coronata f. sp. avenae). We examined the role of NO and reactive oxygen species (ROS) in the initiation of hypersensitive cell death, which is induced by direct contact with the pathogen, and apoptotic cell death in the adjacent cells. Cytofluorimetric analysis using the fluorescent NO probe DAF and the H2O2 probe DCF demonstrated that NO and H2O2 were generated simultaneously in primary leaves at an early stage of the defense response. The NO scavenger 2-(4-carboxyphenyl)-4,4,5,5-tetramethylimidazoline-1-oxyl-3-oxide (cPTIO) markedly enhanced H2O2 accumulation detected by 3,3-diaminobenzidine staining and DCF, whereas treatment with the NO donor S-nitroso-N-acetylpenicillamine (SNAP) strongly suppressed it. Superoxide dismutase (SOD) increased NO accumulation, suggesting that endogenous NO may modulate the level of H2O2 by interacting with O2
- in the HR lesion. Cytological observation showed that administration of cPTIO, SNAP, or SOD had no effect on elicitation of hypersensitive cell death, but clearly reduced heterochromatin condensation in the nearby cells and DNA laddering. These findings indicate that NO and ROS are not essential mediators for the initiation of hypersensitive cell death. However, NO and O2
- but not H2O2 are required for the onset of apoptotic cell death in the adjacent cells, where excess NO may exert its anti-apoptotic function by regulating cellular redox state.