Nitric oxide (NO) derived from L–arginine by the catalytic action of inducible NO synthase (iNOS) plays an important role in killing parasites. Many cell types express high levels of iNOS when activated by a number of immunological stimuli which include interferon–γ (IFN–γ), tumour necrosis factor alpha, and lipopolysaccharide. IFN–gamma is typically produced by the Th1 subset of CD4+ T cells, whose differentiation depends on interleukin–12 (IL–12) produced by macrophages. Mice with a disrupted iNOS gene were highly susceptible to Leishmania major infection compared with similarly infected control wild–type mice. The mutant mice developed significantly higher levels of TH1–cell response compared with the control mice, suggesting that NO is likely to be the effector molecule in the immunological control of this and other intracellular parasitic infections. To ensure their survival, the Leishmania parasites have evolved effective means to inhibit NO synthesis. The highly conserved major surface glycolipids, glycoinositol–phospholipids and lipophosphoglycan (LPG), of Leishmania are potent inhibitors of NO synthesis. Furthermore, LPG can also inhibit IL–12 synthesis, thereby indirectly blocking the induction of iNOS. The evolutionary and therapeutic implications of these findings are discussed.