Nitric oxide (NO) is a gaseous intercellular messenger produced by the enzyme nitric oxide synthase. It has been implicated as a neuromodulator in several groups of animals, including gastropods, crustaceans and mammals. In this study, we investigated the effects of NO on the swim motor program produced by isolated brains and by semi-intact preparations of the nudibranch Melibe leonina. The NO donors sodium nitroprusside (SNP, 1 mmol x l(-1)) and S-nitroso-N-acetylpenicillamine (SNAP, 1 mmol x l(-1)) both had a marked effect on the swim motor program expressed in isolated brains, causing an increase in the period of the swim cycle and a more erratic swim rhythm. In semi-intact preparations, the effect of NO donors was manifested as a significant decrease in the rate of actual swimming. An NO scavenger, reduced oxyhemoglobin, eliminated the effects of NO donors on isolated brains, supporting the assumption that the changes in swimming induced by donors were actually due to NO. The cGMP analogue 8-bromoguanosine 3',5'-cyclic monophosphate (1 mmol x l(-1)) produced effects that mimicked those of NO donors, suggesting that NO is working via a cGMP-dependent mechanism. These results, in combination with previous histological studies indicating the endogenous presence of nitric oxide synthase, suggest that NO is used in the central nervous system of Melibe leonina to modulate swimming.