Chromatophore organs are complex and unique structures responsible for the variety of body coloration patterns used by cephalopods to communicate and camouflage. They are formed by a pigment-containing cytoelastic sacculus, surrounded by muscle fibers directly innervated from the brain. Muscle contraction and relaxation are responsible for expansion and retraction of the pigment-containing cell. Their functioning depends on glutamate and Phe-Met-Arg-Phe-NH(2)-related peptides, which induce fast and slow cell expansion, respectively, and 5-hydroxytryptamine, which induces retraction. Apart from these three substances and acetylcholine, which acts presynaptically, no other neuroactive compounds have so far been found to be involved in the neuroregulation of chromatophore physiology, and the detailed signaling mechanisms are still little understood. Herein, we disclose the role of nitric oxide (NO) as mediator in one of the signaling pathways by which glutamate activates body patterning. NO and nitric-oxide synthase have been detected in pigment and muscle fibers of embryo, juvenile, and adult chromatophore organs from Sepia officinalis. NO-mediated Sepia chromatophore expansion operates at slower rate than glutamate and involves cGMP, cyclic ADP-ribose, and ryanodine receptor activation. These results demonstrate for the first time that NO is an important messenger in the long term maintenance of the body coloration patterns in Sepia.