The aim of this study was to characterize the mechanisms underlying pulmonary vascular dysfunction after cardiopulmonary bypass (CPB) by examining responses of isolated pulmonary arteries to selective endothelium- dependent and -independent activators in control and post-CPB dogs. Adult male mongrel dogs were placed on closed-chest, hypothermic CPB for 2.5 h, and then allowed to recover. Anatomically matched pulmonary arterial rings were isolated and suspended for isometric tension recording. Contractile responses to the α1-adrenergic agonist phenylephrine were similar in endothelium- containing arteries from control and CPB animals. Endothelium denudation increased contractions to phenylephrine to a similar extent in both groups. Endothelium-dependent relaxation to acetylcholine was decreased 4 days after CPB compared with controls. In contrast to acetylcholine, endothelium- dependent relaxation to bradykinin or to A23187 were not impaired 4 days after CPB. Inhibition of nitric oxide synthase (NOS) with L-NAME depressed the response to acetylcholine in control vessels, confirming that a component of the response to acetylcholine was nitric oxide (NO) dependent. At lower concentrations of acetylcholine, this component of the response was abolished after CPB. The residual relaxation evoked by acetylcholine in the presence of L-NAME also was impaired in CPB compared with control arteries. This suggests that the CPB-induced impairment of acetylcholine-evoked relaxation may not involve both an NO-mediated and an NO-independent component. L-NAME depressed the response to bradykinin to a similar degree in control and CPB arteries. Vascular smooth-muscle dilatation to the NO donor, SIN-1, or to the K+(ATP)- channel opener, cromakalim, were similar in endothelium-denuded arteries from CPB and control animals. These results suggest that CPB causes a selective impairment in endothelial dilator function without changing the vascular smooth-muscle response to vasodilator or vasoconstrictor stimuli.