The available evidence suggests that vitamin D has cardiovascular effects besides regulating calcium homeostasis. To examine the effect of 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D(3), the major metabolite of vitamin D, on endothelium-dependent contractions, aortic rings of spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHR) were suspended in organ chambers for isometric force measurements. Rings were incubated with N(omega)-nitro-l-arginine methyl ester (l-NAME) and then exposed to increasing concentrations of acetylcholine, ATP, or the calcium ionophore to trigger contractions. This was done in the absence or presence of 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D(3). The release of prostacyclin after acetylcholine or A-23187 stimulation was also measured. The cytosolic-free calcium concentration was measured by confocal microscopy after incubation with the fluorescent dyes fluo-4 and fura red. The presence of vitamin D receptors was confirmed using immunohistochemistry. Acetylcholine- and ATP-induced endothelium-dependent contractions were significantly reduced compared with those obtained in the absence of the drug. This effect was not present if A-23187 was used as an agonist. The acetylcholine- but not the A-23187-induced release of prostacyclin was reduced by the acute administration of 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D(3). Exposure to 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D(3) reduced the increase in cytosolic-free calcium concentration caused by acetylcholine but not by A-23187 in cells. Vitamin D receptors were densely distributed in the endothelium. Inecalcitol (19-nor-14-epi-23-yne-1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D(3)), a synthetic analog of vitamin D, caused a comparable depression of endothelium-dependent contractions as 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D(3). These results demonstrate that vitamin D(3) modulates vascular tone by reducing calcium influx into the endothelial cells and hence decreasing the production of endothelium-derived contracting factors.