The objective of this study was to examine the relationship between responses of bovine intrapulmonary artery and vein to arachidonic acid and cyclic nucleotide levels in order to better understand the mechanism of relaxation elicited by arachidonic acid and acetylcholine. Arachidonic acid relaxed phenylephrine-precontracted arterial rings and elevated both cyclic GMP and cyclic AMP levels in arteries with intact endothelium. In contrast, endothelium-damaged arterial rings contracted to arachidonic acid without demonstrating significant changes in cyclic nucleotide levels. Indomethacin partially inhibited endothelium-dependent relaxation and abolished cyclic AMP accumulation whereas methylene blue, a guanylate cyclase inhibitor, partially inhibited relaxation and abolished cyclic GMP accumulation in response to arachidonic acid. All vessel responses were blocked by a combination of the two inhibitors. Prostaglandin (PG) I2 relaxed arterial rings and elevated cyclic AMP levels whereas PGE2 and PGF2 alpha caused contraction, suggesting that the indomethacin-sensitive component of arachidonic acid-elicited relaxation is due to PGI2 formation and cyclic AMP accumulation. The methylene blue-sensitive component is attributed to an endothelium-dependent but cyclooxygenase-independent generation of a substance causing cyclic GMP accumulation. Intrapulmonary veins contracted to arachidonic acid with no changes in cyclic nucleotide levels and PGI2 was without effect. Homogenates of intrapulmonary artery and vein formed 6-keto-PGF1 alpha, PGF2 alpha and PGE2 from [14C]arachidonic acid, which was inhibited by indomethacin. Thus, bovine intrapulmonary vein may not possess receptors for PGI2. The failure of endothelium-intact vein to relax to acetylcholine may be related to the lack of a relaxant effect by arachidonic acid, perhaps attributed to the absence of generation of an endothelium-derived relaxing factor.