Endothelins (ET) produce endothelium-dependent vasodilation through nitric oxide (NO) synthesis. The present study was designed to elucidate the cellular mechanism by which ET induces synthesis and release of endothelium-derived NO by cultured bovine endothelial cells (EC). Binding studies revealed that bovine EC membrane had the binding sites of a novel agonist (BQ3020) for non-isopeptide-selective receptor subtype (ETB). Affinity labeling studies showed a major labeled band with the apparent molecular mass of 50 kD. Northern blot analysis demonstrated the expression of mRNA for ETB receptor. BQ3020 rapidly and dose dependently induced formation of inositol-1,4,5-triphosphate and increased intracellular Ca2+ concentrations in fura-2-loaded cells. Concomitantly, BQ3020 dose dependently stimulated production of both nitrate/nitrite (NOx) and cyclic GMP; a highly significant correlation existed between NOx and cGMP production. The stimulatory effect on NOx and cGMP production by ETB agonist was inhibited by NO synthase inhibitor monomethyl-L-arginine; this effect was reversed by coaddition of L-arginine, but not D-arginine. NOx and cGMP production stimulated by BQ3020 was inhibited by pretreatment with pertussis toxin. ETB agonist-induced NOx production was blocked by a calmodulin inhibitor and an intracellular Ca2+ chelator, but not by an extracellular Ca2+ chelator or a Ca2+ channel blocker. These data suggest that endothelins stimulate ETB receptor-mediated phosphoinositide breakdown via pertussis toxin-sensitive G-protein(s), which triggers release of intracellular Ca2+, thereby activating Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent NO synthase in EC.