Fifteen years after its discovery, NO has fully reached an established position in physiology, medicine and therapeutics. It is difficult to find a biological function or a pathological condition where NO does not play a relevant role. Discoveries in the NO field have historically evolved from cardiovascular research, although its influences have already covered nearly all the medical specialties. This review analyzes, step by step, the pathway through which NO is synthesized in the cells of the cardiovascular system and the main physiological and pathological routes it undergoes once it is released. We focus on various diseases affecting the cardiovascular system (atherosclerosis, hypertension, diabetes mellitus and septic shock). We describe in detail those steps of the NO pathway in which anomalies have been detected and may account for the pathophysiology of these diseases. In atherosclerosis, hypertension and diabetes mellitus, the endothelial form of NOS is upregulated, but is very sensitive to environmental conditions, such as substrate or cofactor deficiencies or increases in LDL or glucose. In this situation NOS synthesizes superoxide anion instead of NO leading to oxidative and nitrosative stress. In diabetes mellitus and, very importantly, in septic shock, the inducible form of NOS is highly upregulated. Overproduction of NO appears to underlie the hypotension and tissue damage of septicemia and the destruction of ß-cells in diabetes mellitus. New knowledge of the role of NO in these diseases has started to influence therapeutic design. We also review the current status of research on NO-based therapies.