In the aorta of spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHR), the endothelial dysfunction is due to the release of endothelium-derived contracting factors (EDCFs) that counteract the vasodilator effect of nitric oxide, with no or minor alteration of its production. The endothelium-dependent contractions elicited by acetylcholine (ACh) involve an increase in endothelial [Ca(2+)](i), the production of reactive oxygen species, the activation of endothelial cyclooxygenase-1, the diffusion of EDCF and the subsequent stimulation of smooth muscle cell TP receptors. The EDCFs released by ACh have been identified as PGH(2) and paradoxically prostacyclin. Prostacyclin generally acts as an endothelium-derived vasodilator, which, by stimulating IP receptors, produces hyperpolarization and relaxation of the smooth muscle and inhibits platelet aggregation. In the aorta of SHR and Wistar-Kyoto rats, prostacyclin is the principal metabolite of arachidonic acid released by ACh. However, in SHR aorta, prostacyclin does not produce relaxations but activates the TP receptors on vascular smooth muscle cells and produces contraction. The IP receptor is not functional in the aortic smooth muscle cells of SHR as early as 12 weeks of age, but its activity is not reduced in platelets. Therefore, prostacyclin in the rule protects the vascular wall, but in the SHR aorta it can contribute to endothelial dysfunction. Whether or not prostacyclin plays a detrimental role as an EDCF in other animal models or in human remains to be demonstrated. Nevertheless, because EDCFs converge to activate TP receptors, selective antagonists of this receptor, by preventing endothelium-dependent contractions, curtail the endothelial dysfunction in diseases such as hypertension and diabetes.