Recent studies suggest that the superoxide generating enzyme NADPH oxidase may play a functional role in regulating cerebral vascular tone. We tested whether the activity, function, and expression of NADPH oxidase differs between rat cerebral and systemic arteries. Superoxide production by basilar (BA), middle cerebral (MCA), carotid (CA), renal (RA), and mesenteric (MA) arteries and aorta (AO) was measured using lucigenin-enhanced chemiluminescence. Superoxide production from NADPH oxidase was localized and semiquantified using dihydroethidium. Vascular functional responses were assessed in a myograph or organ bath. Vascular Nox4 protein expression was measured using Western blotting. Superoxide production (basal or in response to NADPH or angiotensin II) in the intracranial arteries, BA, and MCA was 10- to 100-fold greater than in AO, CA, RA, or MA. Similar results were found using either intact vessels or arterial homogenates, and were associated with 10-fold greater expression of Nox4 in the BA versus AO, CA, and MA. Superoxide production was attenuated by the NADPH oxidase inhibitors, diphenyleneiodonium, apocynin, and gp91ds-tat. NADPH and H2O2 were strong relaxing stimuli in the BA, where the H2O2 scavenger catalase, as well as apocynin, attenuated these relaxations and also augmented contractions to angiotensin II. NADPH oxidase activity is markedly higher in intracranial versus systemic arteries, in association with higher Nox4 expression. In cerebral arteries, endogenous H2O2 derived from NADPH oxidase activation appears to cause relaxation and is able to offset angiotensin II-induced constriction. These data are consistent with the concept that NADPH oxidase-derived reactive oxygen species modulate cerebral vascular tone under physiological conditions.