A range of prostanoid agonists were tested for activity on isolated ring preparations of piglet saphenous vein. The selective TxA2-mimetic (TP-receptor agonist), U-46619, contracted the preparation in a concentration-related fashion. These contractions were inhibited by the TP-receptor blocking drug, GR32191B, producing a pA2 of 7.8 (slope = 1.6). Prostanoid-induced relaxant responses were studied on preparations which had been pre-contracted using an EC60 concentration of phenylephrine (mean EC60 = 0.97 microM), in the presence of GR32191B (1 microM), to block contractile TP-receptors. Under these conditions, PGD2, PGE2, PGF2 alpha, PGI2, and U-46619, all caused concentration-related relaxation. PGE2 was the most potent agonist (EC50 = 0.23nM), whereas, all of the other agonists were at least 1,000-fold weaker, providing strong evidence for the presence of inhibitory EP-receptors. The selective synthetic EP-agonists, sulprostone (EP1/EP3) and AH13205X (EP2), were next tested for relaxant activity. While both compounds caused concentration-related relaxant activity, they were respectively 6,000 and 11,000-fold less potent than PGE2. The potent TP-receptor blocking drugs, AH22921X and AH23848B, were both weak antagonists of PGE2 but not isoproterenol-induced relaxant responses of piglet saphenous vein in a concentration-related fashion. These two compounds had pA2 values against PGE2 of 5.3 and 5.4 respectively, with regression slopes not significantly different from unity. In contrast, neither compound at a concentration of 30 microM had any antagonist activity against prostanoid-induced effects on guinea-pig fundus (EP1), rabbit ear artery (EP2) or guinea-pig vas deferens (EP3). In conclusion, the piglet saphenous vein contains TP-receptors mediating smooth muscle contraction, and a PGE2-specific (EP) receptor mediating relaxation. The inhibitory EP-receptor does not appear to be of the EP1, EP2 or EP3-subtypes, and appears therefore to be a novel subtype which we tentatively term EP4, and the potent TP-receptor blocking drugs, AH22921X and AH23848B, appear to be weak, but specific EP4-receptor blocking drugs.