Proteases may act as cell signaling molecules via protease-activated receptors (PARs). PAR1, PAR3, and PAR4, but not PAR2, are activated by thrombin, whereas trypsin can activate PAR2 and PAR4. In this study, trypsin (3-100 nM) evoked concentration-dependent contractions of guinea pig isolated bronchus, however, thrombin (3-300 nM) was a weak spasmogen. Neither the PAR2-activating peptide SLIGRL (100 microM) nor mast cell tryptase (100 nM), a trypsin-like protease known to activate PAR2, evoked contraction. A role for neurokinins in trypsin-induced contraction is suggested by our observation that contractions to trypsin were markedly attenuated in the presence of neurokinin receptor antagonists. Depletion of neurokinins in sensory nerves with capsaicin also markedly reduced the ability of trypsin to evoke contraction. In electrophysiological studies, trypsin did not evoke action potentials in C-fiber afferents whose receptive fields were located in the trachea or main bronchi. The results from this study support the hypothesis that trypsin activates a mechanism allowing for local release of sensory neurokinins from afferent C-fibers and that this release occurs independently of the sensory function of these nerves.