Arterial vasodilation with concomitant hyperdynamic circulation is a common finding in cirrhotic subjects. Elevated levels of plasma endogenous opioid peptides have been reported in cholestasis and cirrhosis. Increased opioid peptides contribute to different manifestations of chronic liver disease such as pruritus, ascitis, and hepatic encephalopathy. In this study the potential role of opioid system in cirrhosis-induced vascular hyporesponsiveness was investigated. Bile duct ligated and sham operated animals received daily subcutaneous administration of naltrexone, an opioid receptor antagonist (20 mg/kg/day), or saline for 28 days. After 4 weeks the superior mesenteric artery was cannulated and was perfused according to McGregor method and then phenylephrine vasoconstrictor response of mesenteric vessels (10(-10) to 10(-6 )mol) was examined. In order to evaluate the effects of acute opioid receptor blockade, additional groups of animals were treated by acute single intraperitoneal naltrexone injection (20 mg/kg). Plasma level of nitrite/nitrate as an indicator for nitric oxide production was measured. Biliary cirrhosis was accompanied with a decrease in baseline perfusion pressure in mesenteric vascular bed (P < 0.01). Chronic opioid receptor blockade significantly increased this parameter (P < 0.01). The maximum pressure response to phenylephrine was decreased significantly in cirrhosis while chronic naltrexone treatment completely improved it (P < 0.01). Acute single injection of naltrexone could not influence the understudied homodynamic parameters. Chronic opioid receptor blockade did not modulate the increased nitrite/nitrate levels following cholestasis. This study provided evidence on the contribution of endogenous opioid system to vascular hyporesponsiveness in cirrhosis which is not directly correlated to high plasma NO levels.