The modulatory role of endogenous nitric oxide (NO) on pulmonary edema induced by acetylcholine (ACh), capsaicin, substance P (SP) and 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) was investigated by using an inhibitor of NO synthase, N-omega-nitro-L-arginine (L-NNA). The effects of endogenous NO on the hemodynamic response to ACh, 5-HT and SP were also investigated. The capillary filtration coefficient (Kf,c), the total pressure gradient (delta Pt) and its four components [arterial (delta Pa), pre- (delta Pa') and post-capillary (delta Pv'), and venous gradient (delta Pv)] were evaluated on isolated, ventilated, perfused rabbit lungs. ACh (10(-8) to 10(-4) M) and SP (10(-10) to 10(-6) M) induced a concentration-dependent increase in the Kf,c. Capsaicin (10(-4) M) and 5-HT (10(-4) M) also increased this parameter. L-NNA (10(-4) M) completely inhibited the effects of ACh and capsaicin on the Kf,c, without preventing the effects of SP and 5-HT. ACh induced a concentration-dependent vasoconstriction in the precapillary segment. Pretreatment with L-NNA enhanced this increase in delta Pa' but also increased delta Pv' and delta Pv. 5-HT increased delta Pt and delta Pa proportionally to the concentration. This effect was enhanced by L-NNA, which also increased delta Pa'. SP had no significant hemodynamic effect. Pretreatment with L-NNA did not modify the response to SP. Sodium nitroprusside (10(-5) M) induced a left shift of the concentration-response curve to ACh on the Kf,c, although it did not change the response to SP. Sodium nitroprusside also inhibited the hemodynamic effect of ACh. It was concluded that endogenous NO is involved in ACh-and capsaicin-induced edema via a prejunctional stimulatory effect on the C-fibers. Endogenous NO can also modulate ACh- and 5-HT-induced vasoconstriction by exerting a vasodilator action on the whole pulmonary vascular bed.