The principal objective of this study was to elucidate the influence of superoxide anion on both endothelium-dependent arterial relaxation elicited by acetylcholine and endothelium-independent arterial relaxation produced by nitric oxide (NO). Pyrogallol was used to generate superoxide in the oxygenated bathing medium, and superoxide dismutase was used to scavenge superoxide. Pyrogallol caused endothelium-dependent contractions of bovine intrapulmonary arterial and venous smooth muscle after precontraction of muscle by phenylephrine. Acetylcholine- and NO-elicited arterial relaxations were promptly converted to marked contractions upon addition of pyrogallol. Moreover, pyrogallol markedly inhibited the development of arterial relaxant responses to acetylcholine and NO. However, isoproterenol- and glyceryl trinitrate-elicited arterial relaxations were unaffected by pyrogallol. Both pyrogallol and oxyhemoglobin enhanced arterial contractile responsiveness to phenylephrine in an endothelium-dependent manner, whereas indomethacin was without effect. Similarly, both pyrogallol and oxyhemoglobin inhibited acetylcholine- and NO-elicited arterial cyclic GMP accumulation, whereas indomethacin was without effect. Uncontracted arterial rings maintained under tension showed endothelium-dependent contraction and decreased cyclic GMP levels in response to oxyhemoglobin but not pyrogallol. Superoxide dismutase enhanced arterial relaxation and cyclic GMP accumulation in response to both acetylcholine and NO. Using a bioassay superfusion cascade system in which intact perfused artery was the source of endothelium-derived relaxing factor (EDRF) and three endothelium-denuded arterial strips mounted in series served as the detector of EDRF, superfusion of strips with pyrogallol blocked relaxation caused by perfusion of artery with acetylcholine. Superoxide dismutase enhance the relaxations produced by arterial perfusion with acetylcholine and prevented the effects of pyrogallol.