The present study examined whether preglomerular arterioles of the rat produce 20-hydroxyeicosatetraenoic acid (20-HETE) and whether 20-HETE is vasoactive on these vessels. Raf preglomerular arterioles produced 20-HETE (4.8 +/- 1.0 pmol.min-1.mg-1, n = 7) and, to a lesser extent, 14-, 15-, 11-, and 12-dihydroxyeicosatetraenoic acid, 6-ketoprostaglandin F/alpha and prostaglandin E2 when incubated with [14C]larachidonic acid. The results of immunoblotting and reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction experiments indicate that these vessels express mRNA and protein for a P-450 4A2 enzyme. With the use of a rat juxtamedullary nephron microvascular preparation perfused in vitro with a cell-free media, addition of 20-HETE (1 nM-1 microM) to the bath reduced the diameter of proximal and distal portions of the efferent arterioles. At a concentration of 1 microM, the diameter of the proximal and distal portions of the afferent arteriole fell by 14 +/- 1 and 16 +/- 3% after 20-HETE. The response to 20-HETE (1 microM) was not altered by blockade of cyclooxygenase, lipoxygenase, and p-450 pathways. Blockade of the large-conductance Ca(2+)-activated K+ channel with tetraethylammonium (1 mM) reduced the diameter of afferent arterioles by 10% and blocked the vasoconstrictor response to 20-HETE (1 microM). These results indicate that 20-HETE is an endogenous constrictor of preglomerular arterioles and suggest a role for the P-450 4A2 enzyme in the regulation of renal vascular tone.