Nitric oxide is an important messenger that regulates mast cell activity by modifications to gene expression and intracellular pathways associated with exocytosis and adhesion. Integrin interactions with extracellular matrix components modulate an array of cell activities, including mediator production and secretion. To investigate the molecular mechanisms underlying NO regulation of mast cell function, we studied its effects on adhesion of a human mast cell line (HMC-1) to fibronectin (FN). The NO donors S-nitrosoglutathione and S-nitroso-N-acetylpenicillamine strongly down-regulated the adhesion of HMC-1 to FN. Inhibitors of soluble guanylate cyclase and protein kinase G did not alter the response of cells to NO. A peroxynitrite scavenger did not affect modulation of adhesion by NO, nor could the effect of NO be mimicked by the peroxynitrite-producing compound 3-morpholinosydnonimine. NO donors inhibited the cysteine protease, calpain, while calpain inhibitors mimicked the effect of NO and led to a decrease in the ability of HMC-1 cells to adhere to FN. Thus, NO is an effective down-regulator of human mast cell adhesion. The mechanism for this action does not involve peroxynitrite or activation of soluble guanylate cyclase. Instead, a portion of NO-induced down-regulation of adhesion may be attributed to inhibition of the cysteine protease, calpain, an enzyme that has been associated with control of integrin activation in other cell types. The inhibition of calpain is most likely mediated via nitrosylation of its active site thiol group. Calpain may represent a novel therapeutic target for the regulation of mast cell activity in inflammatory disorders.