1. To examine the presence of nitric oxide synthase (NOS) activity in female dog urethra, pharmacological experiments were performed using electrical field stimulation (EFS), guanethidine, atropine, NG-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester and L-arginine, NOS immunohistochemistry using specific anti-NOS antibody, and reduced nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADPH) diaphorase staining were also performed. 2. EFS caused frequency-dependent contractions in all urethral preparations, but in the presence of guanethidine and atropine, EFS caused significant relaxation in the proximal urethra and was without effect on the distal urethra. 3. In the presence of guanethidine, atropine, and NG-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester, small contractions to EFS were re-established in the proximal urethra, but not in the distal urethra. NG-nitro-D-arginine methyl ester had no such effect. 4. In the presence of guanethidine, atropine, and NG-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester, the addition of L-arginine, restored the EFS-elicited relaxant responses previously seen with guanethidine and atropine alone in the proximal urethra (at 30 Hz; 12.89 +/- 5.27% to -2.44 +/- 4.43%, mean +/- s.e., P < 0.05). D-Arginine had no such effect. 5. In the distal urethra, the addition of NG-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester and then L-arginine had no effect on responses to EFS in preparations treated with guanethidine and atropine. 6. Sodium nitroprusside caused relaxation in both the proximal and distal urethra. The relaxant responses per cm2 cross sectional area in the proximal and distal urethra were 1.23 +/- 0.29, and 2.02 +/- 0.54 g cm-2 cross sectional area (mean +/- s.e.), respectively: there was no significant difference between them. 7. Both NOS and NADPH diaphorase-positive neurones were present in dog urethra, the densities of both being higher in the proximal urethra than in the distal urethra. 8. These results show that female dog urethra possesses NOS nerves and that endogenous NO may play a role in relaxation in the proximal but not the distal urethra.