To elucidate the effect of Beraprost, a stable prostaglandin (PG) I2 analogue, on airway smooth muscle functions and its mechanism of action, we studied canine bronchial segments under isometric conditions in vitro. Addition of PGI2 and its analogues dose-dependently relaxed bronchial smooth muscle precontracted with acetylcholine, with the rank order of potency being Beraprost (1) > or = Hoprost (0.65) > PGI2 (0.04), accompanied by the corresponding increase in intracellular cyclic AMP levels. The Beraprost- and PGI2-induced muscle relaxations were significantly inhibited by each of the PG antagonist diphloretin phosphate, the adenylate cyclase inhibitor SQ 22,536, and the Na(+)-K(+)-ATPase inhibitor ouabain. Beraprost and PGI2 at concentrations insufficient to cause muscle relaxation reduced the contractile responses to electrical field stimulation, whereas they were without effect on those to exogenous acetylcholine. These results suggest that Beraprost not only potently relaxes airway smooth muscle through cyclic AMP production and the subsequent stimulation of Na(+)-K(+)-ATPase but also reduces neurally mediated contraction by inhibiting the release of acetylcholine from the cholinergic nerve terminals.