1 The actions of the potassium channel openers, cromakalim and minoxidil sulphate, were compared in a range of isolated blood vessel preparations. 2 Cromakalim and minoxidil sulphate inhibited spontaneous mechanical activity of the guinea-pig portal vein and relaxed the noradrenaline precontracted rat aorta with similar potency. In contrast, minoxidil sulphate was less potent than cromakalim in inhibiting spontaneous activity in the rat portal vein and was essentially inactive in the noradrenaline precontracted rat mesenteric artery and rabbit aorta. 3 Minoxidil sulphate did not antagonize the effects of cromakalim in the rabbit aorta indicating it was not acting as a partial 'agonist'. 4 Charybdotoxin, noxiustoxin and rubidium failed to discriminate between cromakalim and minoxidil sulphate indicating that the apparently selective effects of minoxidil sulphate were not mediated by either Ca(2+)-activated potassium channels, delayed rectifiers or rubidium impermeable potassium channels. 5 Glibenclamide antagonized the effects of cromakalim in an apparently competitive manner whereas the effects of minoxidil sulphate were antagonized in a non-competitive manner. The involvement of subtypes of ATP-sensitive potassium channels is discussed.