1. The mechanisms responsible for sensing hypoxia and initiating hypoxic pulmonary vasoconstriction (HPV) are unclear. We therefore examined the roles of the mitochondrial electron transport chain (ETC) and glycolysis in HPV of rat small intrapulmonary arteries (IPAs). 2. HPV demonstrated a transient constriction (phase 1) superimposed on a sustained constriction (phase 2). Inhibition of complex I of the ETC with rotenone (100 nM) or complex III with myxothiazol (100 nM) did not cause vasoconstriction in normoxia, but abolished both phases of HPV. Rotenone inhibited the hypoxia-induced rise in intracellular Ca(2+) ([Ca(2+)](i)). Succinate (5 mM), a substrate for complex II, reversed the effects of rotenone but not myxothiazol on HPV, but did not affect the rise in NAD(P)H fluorescence induced by hypoxia or rotenone. Inhibition of cytochrome oxidase with cyanide (100 microM) potentiated phase 2 constriction. 3. Phase 2 of HPV, but not phase 1, was highly correlated with glucose concentration, being potentiated by 15 mM but abolished in its absence, or following inhibition of glycolysis by iodoacetate or 2-deoxyglucose. Glucose concentration did not affect the rise in [Ca(2+)](i) during HPV. 4. Depolarisation-induced constriction was unaffected by hypoxia except in the absence of glucose, when it was depressed by approximately 50 %. Depolarisation-induced constriction was depressed by rotenone during hypoxia by 23 +/- 4 %; cyanide was without effect. 5. Hypoxia increased 2-deoxy-[(3)H]glucose uptake in endothelium-denuded IPAs by 235 +/- 32 %, and in mesenteric arteries by 218 +/- 38 %. 6. We conclude that complex III of the mitochondrial ETC acts as the hypoxic sensor in HPV, and initiates the rise in smooth muscle [Ca(2+)](i) by a mechanism unrelated to changes in cytosolic redox state per se, but more probably by increased production of superoxide. Additionally, glucose and glycolysis are essential for development of the sustained phase 2 of HPV, and support an endothelium-dependent Ca(2+)-sensitisation pathway rather than the rise in [Ca(2+)](i).