Chronic inflammatory states frequently lead to the increased production of nitric oxide (NO) via inducible NO synthase (NOS-2). In addition, NO may produce mutagenesis through several mechanisms such as DNA oxidation, DNA deamination, and the formation of N-nitroso compounds. As there is a strong association between human hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection and the development of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), we were interested in whether human HCV hepatitis leads to induction of NOS-2 and if the mutation repair system of p53/p21 was upregulated. Reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) for human NOS-2 message was performed on RNA samples from both liver biopsies and whole liver from HCV-positive and control patients (normal liver from hepatic resections for metastases). Immunohistochemistry (IHC) for p53 and Western blot analysis for p21 were also performed on the whole liver samples. From the liver biopsies, 60% of HCV-positive patients expressed NOS-2 by RT-PCR. Looking at the whole liver samples, 100% of the HCV-positive patients expressed NOS-2 vs 12.5% in the normal samples. p53 was not detected in either group but there was upregulation of p21 over baseline expression in a number of the HCV-positive patients. Human HCV hepatitis leads to consistent upregulation of hepatic NOS-2 message, but message is not predictably present in 'normal' human liver. There is also induction of p21 in some patients with HCV hepatitis. Chronic expression of NO in HCV hepatitis may play a role in DNA mutagenesis and the development of HCC.