Patients with humoral hypercalcemia of malignancy display markedly increased serum calcium levels, reduced blood pressure, and tachycardia. The causative agent, humoral hypercalcemia of malignancy factor [also called PTH-related protein (PTHrp)] has been shown to interact with PTH receptors in bone and kidney. We compared human PTHrp-(1-34) with rat PTH-(1-34) for the effects of each peptide on cardiovascular function in unrestrained conscious rats. Both PTHrp and PTH decreased blood pressure in a dose-dependent manner over the concentration range of 0.3-30 micrograms/kg. PTHrp was approximately 3-fold more potent than PTH, producing up to a 50 mm Hg decrease in pressure within 2 min at 10 micrograms/kg. Both peptides increased heart rate more than 70 beats/min at this dose. However, PTH appeared to exert greater efficacy and potency than PTHrp in increasing heart rate in vivo. In the isolated and perfused rat heart, PTHrp and PTH produced positive chronotropic and positive inotropic effects as well as increased coronary flow. PTHrp was more potent and more effective than PTH. The time courses of these effects in the perfused heart preparations indicated that both peptides produced maximal effects within 1 min, with all responses returning to baseline within 10 min. In isolated helical strips of rat aorta, PTHrp and PTH relaxed norepinephrine-contracted tissues in a concentration-dependent fashion. A functional endothelium was not required for the relaxing effects of either peptide. These studies indicate that PTHrp and PTH decrease blood pressure by relaxing vascular tissue in an endothelium-independent manner. Also, these peptides directly increased heart rate, contractility, and coronary flow. Since PTHrp has recently been found in normal human cells, these studies suggest the possibility of PTHrp as a regulator or modulator of cardiovascular function.