We tested the hypothesis that elevated superoxide production by Nox2-NADPH oxidase occurs in cerebral arteries during hypercholesterolemia and causes decreased nitric oxide function.Wild-type (WT), apolipoprotein E-deficient (ApoE(-/-)) and Nox2(-/-)/ApoE(-/-) mice were fed a high-fat diet for 7 to 14 weeks. Basal superoxide production by cerebral arteries was measured using L-012 (100 micromol/L)-enhanced chemiluminescence. Nitric oxide function was assessed in isolated middle cerebral arteries through the constrictor response to N(omega)-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester (L-NAME; 100 micromol/L). Western blotting was used to measure protein expression of Nox2, p47phox, endothelial nitric oxide synthase, and superoxide dismutases (1-3).Morphology of cerebral arteries was similar in WT and ApoE(-/-) mice. In ApoE(-/-), but not Nox2(-/-)/ApoE(-/-) mice, superoxide production by cerebral arteries was approximately 50% greater than in WT mice (P<0.05). Moreover, the magnitude of L-NAME-induced contractions of isolated middle cerebral arteries from ApoE(-/-) mice was <50% of that in WT mice (P<0.05), whereas in Nox2(-/-)/ApoE(-/-) mice, the contractile response was comparable to WT responses. In the presence of the superoxide scavenger, tempol (1 mmol/L), L-NAME-induced contractions of middle cerebral arteries were similar between WT and ApoE(-/-) mice. Expression of p47phox was approximately 2-fold higher in ApoE(-/-) versus WT mice, whereas Nox2, endothelial nitric oxide synthase, and superoxide dismutase isoforms were unchanged.Elevated superoxide production and reduced basal nitric oxide-mediated relaxation occur in cerebral arteries of hypercholesterolemic mice even in the absence of lesions. These changes appear to be exclusively due to increased activity of Nox2-NADPH oxidase, possibly through increased expression of its regulatory subunit p47phox.