We performed a pharmacologic analysis of the increase in perfusion pressure induced by melatonin and related analogues in the perfused rat tail artery precontracted by 1 microM phenylephrine. Melatonin, 2-iodomelatonin, 6-chloromelatonin, and S20098 (N-[2-(7-methoxy-1-naphthyl)ethyl]acetamide) produced a concentration-dependent enhancement of the vasoconstrictor response evoked by 1 microM phenylephrine with a rank order of potency compatible with the pharmacologic profile defined for high-affinity melatonin receptors. Melatonin had no effect on electrically induced [3H]noradrenaline release, but the neurogenic vasoconstriction was increased at melatonin concentrations of 100 and 300 nM. Increasing concentrations of the naphthalenic-based antagonist S20928 (N-[2-(1-naphthyl)ethyl]cyclobutanecarboxamide) caused a parallel rightward shift in the melatonin concentration-response curve without depressing the maximal response. The pA2 value of S20928 was 7.01 +/- 0.08. Luzindole, 1 microM, an antagonist of Mel1b melatonin receptors, was without effect on melatonin-induced responses. By using reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), we found that messenger RNA (mRNA) encoding for Mel1a is transcribed in the rat tail artery. In conclusion, the results show that melatonin produced an enhancement of the contractile response elicited by phenylephrine in the perfused rat tail artery. This vasoconstrictor response appears to be mediated through activation of Mel1a receptors located on smooth-muscle cells. No evidence for an action of melatonin on either the endothelium or sympathetic nerve endings was found.