Cardiotonic effects of evodiamine and rutaecarpine, constituents of the fruits of Evodia rutaecarpa Bentham Rutaceae, were evaluated on guinea pig isolated atria. Comparison with capsaicin, a vanilloid receptor agonist, revealed similar positive inotropic and chronotropic activity, as judged from antagonistic effects of the competitive vanilloid receptor (capsaicin receptor) antagonist capsazepine, the non-competitive vanilloid receptor antagonist ruthenium red, the calcitonin gene related peptide antagonist CGRP(8-37), the P2X purinoceptor antagonist PPADS, and various desensitization studies. Evodiamine and rutaecarpine produced transient positive inotropic and chronotropic effects on the guinea-pig isolated atria, followed by a desensitizing effect to additional administration. Dose-response relationships for evodiamine, rutaecarpine and capsaicin were obtained. All the compounds evoked positive inotropic and chronotropic effects in a concentration-dependent manner. Maximal contractions for evodiamine, rutaecarpine and capsaicin were observed at concentrations of 1 microM, 3 microM and 0.3 microM, respectively. The cardiotonic responses evoked by both evodiamine and rutaecarpine were shifted to the right by capsazepine, an established antagonist of vanilloid receptor (capsaicin-receptor). The effects of both evodiamine (1 microM) and rutaecarpine (3 microM) were abolished by pretreatment with a desensitizing dosage of capsaicin (1 microM), developing cross-tachyphylaxis between these compounds. The effects of evodiamine (1 microM), rutaecarpine (3 microM) and capsaicin (0.3 microM) were also significantly reduced by pretreatment with ruthenium red (10 microM) and CGRP (8-37) (10 microM). The effects of evodiamine, rutaecarpine and capsaicin were not affected by pretreatment with PPADS (100 microM), a highly selective P2X purinoceptor antagonist, and the possibility of the involvement of the P2X purinoceptor was excluded. These results suggest that the positive inotropic and chronotropic effects on the guinea-pig isolated right atria induced by both evodiamine and rutaecarpine could be attributed to their interaction with vanilloid receptors and the resultant release of CGRP, a cardiotonic neurotransmitter, from capsaicin-sensitive nerves as with capsaicin.