Nonadrenergic, noncholinergic contractile responses of guinea pig hilar bronchi to transmural electrical stimulation (TES) have been suggested to be due to release of endogenous tachykinins from capsaicin-sensitive neurons (C-fibers). Thiorphan and phosphoramidon, inhibitors of neutral endopeptidase (NEP, the major enzyme responsible for degrading tachykinins), were found to potentiate contractile responses of this isolated airway segment to TES and exogenously applied capsaicin, substance P and neurokinin A. However, the magnitude of potentiation by either inhibitor was smaller for TES and capsaicin (less than 10-fold leftward shift) than for the substrate agonists (about 100-fold leftward shift). This quantitative difference in potentiation by NEP inhibitors does not appear to be due to an influence of vasoactive intestinal peptide or calcitonin gene-related peptide, two endogenous peptides that might be released concomitantly by TES. Neither peptide caused marked effects on contractile responses to TES or tachykinins when applied to the isolated tissues. Addition of inhibitors of serine proteases, aminopeptidases, acetylcholinesterase and angiotensin-converting enzyme failed to further potentiate responses to TES in the presence of thiorphan. Therefore, the contractile response does not appear to be further modified by the activity of these peptidases. Neuropeptide gamma, but not neuropeptide K, was potentiated by thiorphan. The data suggest that peptides that are not substrates for NEP (for example, neuropeptide K) may also be released by TES from capsaicin-sensitive neurons to cause contraction. This may, at least in part, explain the quantitative difference in potentiation by NEP inhibitors of contractile responses to TES and to exogenously applied NEP-sensitive tachykinins in the guinea pig hilar bronchus.