The effects of vitamin D3 on the production of prostacyclin (PGI2) by cultured rabbit vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs) were investigated. PGI2 synthesis by VSMCs was significantly increased in the presence of 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 (1,25(OH)2D3) and 1 alpha hydroxyvitamin D3 (1 alpha(OH)D3) at 48 hours [1,25(OH)2D3 greater than 1 alpha(OH)D3]. Physiological concentration of 1,25(OH)2D3 (10(-10) M) significantly increased the synthesis of PGI2. Further, we observed that treatment with 1,25(OH)2D3 significantly induced the activity of cyclooxygenase without changing the activity of phospholipase A2. These findings suggest that the mechanism of action of 1,25(OH)2D3 on the synthesis of PGI2 is mediated by the cyclooxygenase pathway. It seems possible that vitamin D3 is a vasoactive agent and may play a protective role in the development of atherosclerosis.