Erythrocyte deformability has been recognized as a determinant of microvascular perfusion. Because nitric oxide (NO) is implicated in the modulation of red blood cell (RBC) deformability and NO levels increase during sepsis, we tested the hypothesis that a NO-mediated decrease in RBC deformability contributes to decreased functional capillary density (CD) in remote organs. With the use of a peritonitis model of sepsis in the rat [cecal ligation and perforation (CLP)] and aminoguanidine (AG) to prevent increases in NO, we measured CD in skeletal muscle (intravital microscopy), mean erythrocyte membrane deformability ([Formula: see text]; micropipette aspiration), systemic NO production [plasma nitrite/nitrate (NOx) chemiluminescence], and NO accumulation in RBC [NO bound to hemoglobin (HbNO) detected by electron paramagnetic resonance spectroscopy]. In untreated CLP animals relative to sham, NOx increased 254% ( P < 0.05), stopped flow capillaries increased 149% ( P < 0.05), and [Formula: see text] decreased 12.7% ( P < 0.05), with a subpopulation (5%) of RBC with deformabilities below the normal range. AG prevented increases in NOx, accumulation of HbNO, and decreases in both [Formula: see text]and functional CD. We found no evidence of leukocyte plugging postcapillary venules. Our findings suggest that decreased functional CD during sepsis resulted from a NO-mediated decrease in erythrocyte deformability.