In addition to lowering cholesterol, statins increase nitric oxide (NO) bioavailability, improving endothelial function. In the fetus, enhanced NO during acute hypoxia opposes the fetal peripheral vasoconstrictor response, part of the brain-sparing defence. This study tested the hypothesis that treatment with statins depresses the fetal circulatory response to acute hypoxic stress via increasing NO bioavailability. Under anaesthesia, 12 fetal sheep at 118 ± 1 days of gestation (term ca 145 days) were instrumented with vascular catheters and a femoral artery Transonic flow probe for chronic recording. Five days later, all animals were subjected to 30 min of acute hypoxia (fetal arterial partial pressure of O(2) ( ) reduced by ca 50%) before and 24 h after fetal treatment with pravastatin (25 mg i.v.). In half of the fetuses (n = 6), responses to hypoxia post-pravastatin were evaluated during NO synthesis blockade. Fetal exposure to pravastatin did not affect fetal basal cardiovascular function. Fetal was similarly reduced in all acute hypoxia experiments from ca 21 to 10 mmHg. Fetal exposure to pravastatin markedly diminished the fetal femoral vasoconstrictor (5.1 ± 0.9 vs. 2.5 ± 0.5 mmHg (ml min(-1))(-1)) and lactic acidaemic (4.4 ± 0.5 vs. 3.0 ± 0.3 mm) responses to acute hypoxia (both P < 0.05), without affecting plasma catecholamine responses. Post-pravastatin, the circulatory (5.8 ± 1.5 mmHg (ml min(-1))(-1)) and metabolic (3.9 ± 0.3 mm) responses could be restored to control levels during fetal treatment with NO synthase blockade. Pravastatin depresses the fetal cardiovascular and metabolic defences to acute hypoxia via increasing NO bioavailability. The use of statins during pregnancy should be viewed with extreme caution.