1,4-Dihydropyridine (DHP) derivatives with a 1,2-benzisothiazol-3-one 1,1-dioxide group, linked through an alkylene bridge to the C-3 carboxylate of the DHP ring, with both vasoconstricting and vasorelaxant properties were obtained. In blocking Ca(2+)-evoked contractions of K(+)-depolarized rabbit aortic strips, compounds 12 and 41 were 10-fold more potent than nifedipine; 27 other compounds were 1-4-fold more potent. Their vascular versus cardiac selectivity was very pronounced; for instance, the selectivity index for compound 41 was 70-fold higher than that of nifedipine. This was also true for the vasoconstricting compound 22, which was as potent as Bay K 8644 in enhancing the Ca(2+)-evoked contractions of rabbit aorta strips, yet it had poor inotropic activity in rabbit left atria. Oral administration of compounds 38, 40, 43, and 53 (20 mg/kg) caused a 35-37% decrease in systolic blood pressure in spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHR); these effects were similar to those of nifedipine. However, iv administration of these compounds to anesthetized SHR caused a decrease in blood pressure which was more pronounced and long-lasting than that of nifedipine. When administered iv at 100 micrograms/kg, the vasoconstricting compound 22 caused a 40% increase in systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Compound 22 exhibited an unusually interesting feature over the other five Ca2+ DHP agonists: it had diester substitutions at the C-3 and C-5 positions of the DHP ring. Overall, compounds possessing these properties might be useful in treating clinical cardiovascular conditions in which DHP Ca2+ antagonists or agonists are indicated.