The objective of this study was to determine the role of cerebral nitric oxide and its powerful oxidant peroxynitrite following mild birth asphyxia. The cerebrospinal fluid levels of nitric oxide and 3-nitrotyrosine as a marker for peroxynitrite are measured in neonates with mild hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy. Based on the classification of Sarnat and Sarnat, term neonates with mild hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy and neurologically normal neonates suspected of sepsis were taken as the control group. Nitric oxide measurements were done by chemiluminescence, and nitrotyrosine measurements were made by high-performance liquid chromatography. The Mann Whitney U-test was used, and a P value < .05 was considered significant. Eleven patients with grade I hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy and nine controls were included. The gestational age and birthweights were similar in both groups. Neither of the cerebrospinal fluid levels of nitric oxide (8.60 +/- 0.49 mumol/L) and nitrotyrosine (0.45 +/- 0.33 mumol/L) of the neonates with hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy showed significant differences from that of the means of nitric oxide (8.66 +/- 1.07 mumol/L) and nitrotyrosine levels (0.25 +/- 0.13 mumol/L) of the controls. These data suggest that the oxidative stress is not overexpressed to lead nitric oxide and peroxynitrite to play a pathologic role in the early phase of mild hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy of the newborn.