Nonadrenergic, noncholinergic relaxations were elicited by field stimulation (1-16 Hz, 1 msec, 8 V for 15 sec) of guinea pig trachea desensitized with capsaicin (3 microM), pretreated with atropine (1 microM), propranolol (1 microM), indomethacin (3 microM) and treated with alpha-chymotrypsin (2 U/ml) and contracted with 3 microM histamine. The effect of the phosphodiesterase (PDE) isozyme selective inhibitors siguazodan (PDE III-selective), rolipram (PDE IV-selective), denbufylline (PDE IV-selective) and zaprinast (PDE V-selective) was examined on the relaxant responses to field stimulation and on relaxations elicited by the nitric oxide donor 3-morpholinosydnonimine-N-ethylcarbamide (SIN-1). The response to field stimulation in the presence of alpha-chymotrypsin (the putative nitric oxide component), at all the frequencies tested, was potentiated significantly by the PDE IV inhibitors rolipram (1 and 10 microM) and denbufylline (3 and 10 microM) as were responses to SIN-1. The PDE V inhibitor zaprinast (30 microM) potentiated relaxations elicited by field stimulation at 8 and 16 Hz and also potentiated responses to SIN-1. The PDE III inhibitor siguazodan (1 microM), however, was without effect on relaxant responses to field stimulation or to SIN-1. These results suggest that the nitric oxide component of the nonadrenergic, noncholinergic relaxant response is mediated primarily via cyclic AMP whose action is inactivated by a PDE IV isozyme and also by cyclic GMP which is inactivated by a PDE V isozyme.