Current scientific literature generally attributes the vasoconstrictor effects of [Arg(8)]vasopressin (AVP) to the activation of phospholipase C (PLC) and consequent release of Ca(2+) from the sarcoplasmic reticulum. However, half-maximal activation of PLC requires nanomolar concentrations of AVP, whereas vasoconstriction occurs when circulating concentrations of AVP are orders of magnitude lower. Using cultured vascular smooth muscle cells, we previously identified a novel Ca(2+) signaling pathway activated by 10-100 pM AVP. This pathway is distinguished from the PLC pathway by its dependence on protein kinase C (PKC) and L-type voltage-sensitive Ca(2+) channels (VSCC). In the present study, we used isolated, pressurized rat mesenteric arteries to examine the contributions of these different Ca(2+) signaling mechanisms to AVP-induced vasoconstriction. AVP (10(-14)-10(-6) M) induced a concentration-dependent constriction of arteries that was reversible with a V(1a) vasopressin receptor antagonist. Half-maximal vasoconstriction at 30 pM AVP was prevented by blockade of VSCC with verapamil (10 microM) or by PKC inhibition with calphostin-C (250 nM) or Ro-31-8220 (1 microM). In contrast, acute vasoconstriction induced by 10 nM AVP (maximal) was insensitive to blockade of VSCC or PKC inhibition. However, after 30 min, the remaining vasoconstriction induced by 10 nM AVP was partially dependent on PKC activation and almost fully dependent on VSCC. These results suggest that different Ca(2+) signaling mechanisms contribute to AVP-induced vasoconstriction over different ranges of AVP concentration. Vasoconstrictor actions of AVP, at concentrations of AVP found within the systemic circulation, utilize a Ca(2+) signaling pathway that is dependent on PKC activation and can be inhibited by Ca(2+) channel blockers.