The effects of the oxidant species peroxynitrite (ONOO-) on coronary perfusion pressure and vasodilatation elicited by acetylcholine, isoproterenol, and S-nitroso-N-acetyl-DL-penicillamine were investigated in the isolated perfused rat heart. ONOO- (0.3-1000 μM) caused a concentration-dependent vasodilatation of the coronary vasculature. This dilator response was inhibited by oxyhemoglobin, indicating that it was due to the generation of nitric oxide. Tachyphylaxis to ONOO- developed rapidly, so that the response disappeared after three or four applications of this compound. ONOO- not only induced tachyphylaxis but also inhibited the vasodilatation induced by the three vasodilators studied. This latter effect of ONOO- was critically dependent on its concentration, since it occurred at 3 μM, which was subthreshold as a dilator, and at 1000 μM, which was supramaximal, but not at 30 and 100 μM. These latter concentrations inhibited the responses to vasodilators only in the presence of oxyhemoglobin. Thus, a wide range of concentrations of ONOO- induce a vascular dysfunction, as evidenced by the tachyphylaxis to its own vasodilator actions and the long-lasting impairment of the responses to other vasodilators. However, at the same time ONOO- generates nitric oxide, which at certain concentrations of ONOO- is sufficient to counteract its deleterious action. Confusion of S-nitroso-N-acetyl-DL-penicillamine or prostacyclin at low concentrations that did not produce vasodilatation also protected against ONOO-induced vascular dysfunction: these compounds may be protective through a common mechanism, as yet undefined.