To determine if vascular smooth muscle from teleost and agnathan fishes expresses receptors for signaling agents that are important in vascular tension in other vertebrates, we exposed rings of aortic vascular smooth muscle from the eel (Anguilla rostrata), the hagfish (Myxine glutinosa), and the lamprey (Petromyzon marinus) to a suite of putative agonists, including: acetylcholine, endothelin, nitric oxide, natriuretic peptides, and prostanoids. Acetylcholine constricted aortic rings from the eel, but had no effect on the rings from lamprey. On the other hand, endothelin constricted rings from all three species. Use of receptor-specific ET agonists demonstrated that only ET(A) receptors are expressed in the eel and lamprey aorta. The nitric oxide donor sodium nitroprusside or nitric oxide itself dilated rings from the eel, but both agonists constricted rings from the hagfish and NO produced a biphasic response (constriction followed by dilation) in the lamprey. Two natriuretic peptides, eel ANP and porcine CNP, produced marginally significant dilation in the eel aorta, human ANP dilated the hagfish rings, and pCNP and eANP dilated the lamprey rings. The prostanoids PGE(1) and PGE(2) both dilated the eel aortic rings, and PGE(1) and carbaprostacyclin (stable PGI(2) agonist) dilated the hagfish and lamprey rings. Our results suggest that receptors for a variety of vasoactive signaling agents are expressed in the aortic smooth muscle of the earliest vertebrates (lamprey and hagfish), as well as the more advanced teleosts (eel).