Mounting evidence suggests there is a reduced mobilization of stored fat in obese compared to lean women. It has been suggested that this decreased lipid mobilization may lead to, or perpetuate, the obese state; however, there may be a beneficial effect of reduced lipolysis, either by allowing for a sink of excess fatty acids, or by limiting a potentially harmful rise in interstitial and circulating fatty acid concentration. Nitric oxide (NO) may be responsible for a portion of the reduced in vivo rates of lipolysis in obese women because NO reduces adipose tissue lipolysis and adipose tissue nitric oxide synthase (NOS) mRNA is higher in obese than lean individuals. The purpose of this study was to determine if the inhibition of NOS by L-N g-monomethyl-L- arginine (L-NMMA) in the absence and presence of lipolytic stimulation would result in a larger increase in lipolytic rate in obese (OB) than lean (LN) women. Microdialysis probes were inserted into the subcutaneous abdominal adipose tissue of seven obese and six lean women to monitor lipolysis. Dialysate glycerol concentration increased in response to L-NMMA in OB (basal 125 ± 26 νmol/l; L-NMMA 225 ± 35 νmol/l) to a greater extent than in LN (basal 70 ± 18 νmol/l; L-NMMA 84 ± 20 νmol/l) women (P< 0.05). Dialysate glycerol increased to a similar extent in OB and LN in response to adrenergic stimulation by isoprenaline or norepinephrine in the presence of L-NMMA. The differential glycerol responses to L-NMMA between obese and lean could not be explained by differential blood flow responses. It can be concluded that NO suppresses basal lipolysis in obese women to a greater extent than in lean women.