Previous studies showed that the serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressant fluoxetine (Prozac) dilates skeletal muscle and cerebral arterioles independent of the endothelium. We hypothesized that fluoxetine affects the contractile activity of arteriolar smooth muscle by interfering with Ca2+ signaling pathways. The effects of fluoxetine on pressure-induced tone of isolated rat skeletal muscle arterioles (approximately 110 microm) were investigated by videomicroscopy. Changes in smooth muscle [Ca2+]i were measured simultaneously by the fura-2 ratiometric method. Elevation of intraluminal pressure (from 20 to 120 mm Hg) increased (by approximately 20%) the smooth muscle calcium fluorescence ratio (R(Ca)) and resulted in a significant myogenic constriction (approximately 40%). Fluoxetine and nifedipine significantly decreased R(Ca) (by approximately 30%) and abolished pressure-induced arteriolar tone (EC50, 3.1 x 10(-6) and 6.0 x 10(-9) M, respectively). Constrictions to the L-type Ca2+ channel opener Bay K 8644 also were inhibited and abolished by increasing doses of fluoxetine (3 x 10(-6) and 10(-5) M, respectively). In the presence of 10(-5) M fluoxetine, a concentration that elicited submaximal (approximately 80%) dilation, elevation of extracellular Ca2+ concentration (from 2.5 to 15 mM) normalized R(Ca) and restored arteriolar myogenic tone. Thus, fluoxetine reduces [Ca2+]i and tone of arteriolar smooth muscle, likely by interfering with Ca2+ entry. We speculate that the "calcium antagonist" effect of fluoxetine may be an additional element in the therapeutic actions of this drug.