Bronchodilator prostaglandins E2 and I2 may cause airway irritation and bronchoconstriction in human subjects. These experiments were designed to test the hypothesis that this paradoxical bronchoconstriction is a vagal reflex triggered by stimulation of airway afferents. We recorded smooth muscle tension in an innervated upper tracheal segment in anesthetized dogs and injected prostaglandins into the general circulation or into a bronchial artery or administered them as aerosol to the lungs. Prostaglandins usually caused tracheal contraction, which survived vagal cooling to 5-7 degrees C but was abolished at 0 degrees C. Vagally mediated tracheal contraction was also evoked when prostacyclin was injected into the pulmonary circulation of dogs whose pulmonary and systemic circulations were independently pump perfused. Recordings of afferent vagal impulses indicated that bronchial arterial injection of prostaglandins stimulated bronchial C-fibers; aerosols of prostaglandin stimulated pulmonary and bronchial C-fibers and C-fibers in extrapulmonary airways. We postulate that in susceptible human subjects concentrations of these prostaglandins too low to have direct bronchodilator effects may cause reflex bronchoconstriction by stimulating afferent vagal C-fibers in the lower airways.