Cromakalim and pinacidil, two potassium channel openers, dilate both large and small coronary arteries in conscious dogs. Because flow-mediated dilation of large arteries is endothelium-dependent, the consequences of in vivo endothelium removal (balloon denudation) on the response of large epicardial coronary arteries to cromakalim (10 micrograms/kg) and pinacidil (30 micrograms/kg) were investigated in six dogs chronically instrumented for the measurement of arterial pressure, left circumflex coronary artery diameter and coronary blood flow. Endothelium removal abolished the dilation of large coronary arteries induced by acetylcholine (endothelium-dependent dilation) and reactive hyperemia (flow-mediated dilation), but only slightly reduced (-18%) that induced by nitroglycerin. Before endothelium removal, both cromakalim and pinacidil induced a significant decrease in coronary resistance (-71 +/- 2 and -63 +/- 2%, respectively) and a significant increase in coronary diameter (8.5 +/- 1.3 and 6.7 +/- 0.9%). After endothelium removal, the decreases in coronary resistance were unaffected, but the increases in coronary diameter were reduced by 93 and 98% as compared to predenudation responses with cromakalim and pinacidil, respectively (both P < .01). In contrast, in vitro studies performed in isolated large epicardial coronary arteries obtained from five additional dogs showed that cromakalim evoked relaxations that were not affected by prior in vivo endothelium removal. Thus, despite the presence of potassium channels in isolated denuded large coronary arteries, our data demonstrate that cromakalim- and pinacidil-induced dilation of large arteries in vivo is an indirect, flow-mediated effect which is entirely endothelium-dependent.