The application of the 1-(2-nitrophenyl)ethyl (NPE) moiety as a photolabile ligand for the release of hydrolysis-resistant 8-Br-cAMP and 8-Br-cGMP was examined. NPE-caged 8-Br-cAMP and 8-Br-cGMP liberate 8-Br-cAMP and 8-Br-cGMP during irradiation with ultraviolet light. The synthesis procedure resulted in diastereoisomeric mixtures, which were chromatographically separated into the axial and equatorial isomers of NPE-caged 8-Br-cAMP and 8-Br-cGMP. The hydrolytic stability, solubility and photochemical properties of these derivatives were compared to the previously reported 4.5-dimethoxy-2-nitrobenzyl (DMNB) compounds. We found that the axial isomers of NPE-caged 8-Br-cAMP and 8-Br-cGMP had a considerably better solvolytic stability than the respective equatorial isomers as well as the DMNB-caged derivatives. Their usefulness for physiological studies was examined in a mammalian cell line expressing the cyclic nucleotide-gated (CNG) ion channel of bovine olfactory sensory neurons.