We investigated the molecular mechanisms whereby Ca2+ enters the endothelial cytosol and regulates endothelial nitric oxide synthesis L-arginine-dependent nitric oxide synthesis by isolated endothelial cytosol as quantified by activation of a purified soluble guanylate cyclase was concentration-dependently enhanced by free Ca2+ (EC50 0.3 microM). The Ca(2+)-dependent activation was inhibited by the calmodulin antagonists mastoparan, melittin, and calcineurin (IC50 450, 350, and 60 nM, respectively) in a calmodulin-reversible manner. After removal of endogenous calmodulin the Ca(2+)-dependency of endothelial NO synthase was lost, but could be reconstituted with exogenous calmodulin. The results indicate that Ca(2+)-calmodulin directly activates the endothelial nitric oxide synthase, thereby transducing agonist-induced increases in intracellular free Ca2+ concentration to nitric oxide formation from L-arginine, K(+)-induced depolarization of the endothelial cells markedly inhibited the sustained, but not initial phase of the intracellular Ca2+ response to bradykinin, indicating that K(+)-induced depolarization depresses the transmembrane Ca2+ influx. On the contrary, the K+ channel activator Hoe 234 which elicits hyperpolarization of the endothelial cell membrane, augmented the sustained phase of the agonist-induced intracellular Ca2+ signal, but not the resting intracellular Ca2+ level. The effects of K+ and Hoe 234 on the agonist-induced Ca(2+)-response were reflected by corresponding changes in agonist-induced EDRF/NO release. From these data, we suggest that the endothelial membrane potential may play an important role for the extent of agonist-induced Ca2+ influx and, thereby, the endothelial EDRF/NO synthesis.