We have reported that inhibition of nitric oxide synthesis with N(G)-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester (L-NAME) attenuates the renin secretory response to beta adrenoceptor stimulation. We proposed that the attenuation results from disinhibition of the cyclic GMP-inhibitable isoform of phosphodiesterase (PDE III) with a resultant increase in cyclic AMP hydrolysis in the juxtaglomerular cells. In our investigation, experiments were performed in conscious rabbits to test the effects of the specific PDE III inhibitor milrinone on resting renin secretion and on the renin responses to isoproterenol and L-NAME. In the first series of experiments, infusion of milrinone increased plasma renin activity from 5.4 +/- 0.6 to 10.2 +/- 1.4 ng/ml/2 hr (P < .01). Heart rate increased markedly, but arterial pressure did not change. In the second series, infusion of isoproterenol increased plasma renin activity from 6.3 +/- 1.1 to 15.0 +/- 1.0 ng/ml/2 hr (P < .01). The renin response to isoproterenol was increased (P < .01) in the presence of milrinone (15.3 +/- 3.7 to 38.4 +/- 6.2 ng/ml/2 hr, P < .01). In the third series, L-NAME alone decreased plasma renin activity from 5.0 +/- 1.0 to 3.3 +/- 1.0 ng/ml/2 hr (P < .01). Milrinone again increased plasma renin activity and prevented the suppression of plasma renin activity by L-NAME. By contrast, milrinone did not alter the suppression of plasma renin activity produced by infusion of phenylephrine. In addition, a PDE IV inhibitor failed to prevent the suppression of PRA by L-NAME. Finally, administration of milrinone completely reversed the L-NAME-induced suppression of the renin response to isoproterenol. These results provide evidence that PDE III participates in the regulation of renin secretion, and support the proposal that the L-NAME-induced reductions in renin secretion and in the renin response to beta adrenoceptor stimulation result from disinhibition of PDE III and increased hydrolysis of cyclic AMP in the juxtaglomerular cells.