Although airway and pulmonary vessel tone are regulated predominantly by cholinergic and adrenergic impulses, biologically active peptides such as calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) may significantly influence human smooth muscle tone in normal and pathophysiological states. In the present study, the expression of CGRP and its receptor CGRPR-1 and the biological effect of the peptide were investigated in human airways and pulmonary arteries. Immunohistochemistry revealed the presence of CGRP in human airway nerves and neuro-epithelial cells, whereas the receptor was found in epithelial cells and smooth muscle myocytes of the bronchi and in pulmonary artery endothelium. On precontracted bronchi (3-4 mm in diameter) alpha-CGRP (0.01-10 nM) caused a concentration-dependent contraction on epithelium-denuded bronchi, whereas no significant effect was recorded in bronchi with intact epithelium. In pulmonary arteries (2-6 mm in diameter), alpha-CGRP caused a concentration-dependent relaxation of endothelium intact and denuded vessels. Pre-treatment with indomethacin, but not with l-NAME, prevented the relaxation induced by alpha-CGRP in pulmonary arteries suggesting that prostaglandins but not nitric oxide (NO) are involved in the intracellular signal transduction pathway. The effects induced by alpha-CGRP in bronchi and vessels were prevented by application of the antagonist CGRP((8-37)). In summary, the present studies examined the biological function of CGRP in human airways and demonstrated a constrictory effect of CGRP only in epithelium-denuded airway smooth muscle indicating an alteration of CGRP airway effects in respiratory tract pathological states with damaged epithelium such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or bronchial asthma.