1. Our objective was to determine whether endotoxin (ETX) could directly trigger the release of calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) from perivascular sensory nerves in the isolated mesenteric arterial bed (MAB) of the rat and to determine whether nitric oxide (NO) and prostaglandins (PGs) are involved. 2. ETX caused time- and concentration-dependent release of CGRP, and as much as a 17 fold increase in CGRP levels in the perfusate at 10-15 min after the administration of ETX (50 micrograms ml-1). 3. CGRP-like immunoreactivity in the perfusate was shown to co-elute with synthetic rat CGRP by reverse-phase h.p.l.c. 4. Pretreatment of MAB with capsaicin or ruthenium red inhibited ETX-induced CGRP release by 90% and 71%, respectively. ETX-evoked CGRP release was decreased by 84% during Ca2(+)-free perfusion. 5. The release of CGRP evoked by ETX was enhanced by L-arginine by 43% and inhibited by N omega-nitro-L-arginine (L-NOARG) and methylene blue by 37% and 38%, respectively. L-Arginine reversed the effect of L-NOARG. 6. Indomethacin and ibuprofen also inhibited the ETX-induced CGRP release by 34% and 44%, respectively. No additive inhibition could be found when L-NOARG and indomethacin were concomitantly incubated. 7. The data suggest that ETX triggers the release of CGRP from capsaicin-sensitive sensory nerves innervating blood vessels. The ETX-induced CGRP release is dependent on extracellular Ca2+ influx and involves a ruthenium red-sensitive mechanism. Both NO and PGs appear to be involved in the ETX-induced release of CGRP in the rat mesenteric arterial bed.