We have investigated the ability of protease-activated receptor-1 (PAR-1), PAR-2, PAR-3 and PAR-4 agonists to induce contractile responses in isolated guinea-pig gallbladder. Thrombin, trypsin, mouse PAR-1 activating (SFLLRN-NH(2)) peptide, and mouse PAR-2 activating (SLIGRL-NH(2)) and human PAR-2 activating (SLIGKV-NH(2)) peptides produced a concentration-dependent contractile response. Mouse PAR-4 activating (GYPGKF-NH(2)) peptide, the mouse PAR-1 reverse (NRLLFS-NH(2)) peptide, the mouse PAR-2 reverse (LRGILS-NH(2)) and human PAR-2 reverse (VKGILS-NH(2)) peptides caused negligible contractile responses at the highest concentrations tested. An additive effect was observed following the contractile response induced by either trypsin or thrombin, with the addition of a different PAR agonist (SFLLRN-NH(2) and SLIGRL-NH(2), respectively). Desensitization to PAR-2 activating peptide attenuated the response to trypsin but failed to attenuate the response to PAR-1 agonists, and conversely desensitization to PAR-1 attenuated the response to thrombin but failed to alter contractile responses to PAR-2 agonists. The contractile responses produced by thrombin, trypsin, SFLLRN-NH(2) and SLIGRL-NH(2) were markedly reduced in the presence of the cyclo-oxygenase inhibitor, indomethacin, whilst the small contractile response produced by NRLLFS-NH(2) and LRGILS-NH(2) were insensitive to indomethacin. The contractile responses to thrombin, trypsin, SFLLRN-NH(2) and SLIGRL-NH(2) were unaffected by the presence of: the non-selective muscarinic antagonist, atropine; the nitric oxide synthase inhibitor, L-NAME; the sodium channel blocker, tetrodotoxin; the combination of selective tachykinin NK(1) and NK(2) receptor antagonists, (S)-1-[2-[3-(3,4-dichlorphenyl)-1 (3-isopropoxyphenylacetyl) piperidin-3-yl] ethyl]-4-phenyl-1 azaniabicyclo [2.2.2] octane chloride (SR140333) and (S)-N-methyl-N-[4-acetylamino-4-phenylpiperidino-2-(3, 4-dichlorophenyl)-butyl] benzamide (SR48968), respectively. The results indicate that PAR-1 and PAR-2 activation causes contractile responses in the guinea-pig gallbladder, an effect that is mediated principally by prostanoid release, and is independent of neural mechanisms.