Previous studies have shown that cytotoxic activated macrophages cause inhibition of DNA synthesis, of mitochondrial respiration, and of aconitase activity in tumor target cells. An L-arginine-dependent biochemical pathway synthesizing L-citrulline and nitrite, coupled to an effector mechanism, is now shown to cause this pattern of metabolic inhibition. Murine cytotoxic activated macrophages synthesize L-citrulline and nitrite in the presence of L-arginine but not D-arginine. L-Citrulline and nitrite biosynthesis by cytotoxic activated macrophages is inhibited by NG-monomethyl-L-arginine, which also inhibits this cytotoxic effector mechanism. This activated macrophage cytotoxic effector system is associated with L-arginine deiminase activity, and the imino nitrogen removed from the guanido group of L-arginine by the deiminase reaction subsequently undergoes oxidation to nitrite. L-Homoarginine, an alternative substrate for this deiminase, is converted to L-homocitrulline with concurrent nitrite synthesis and similar biologic effects.