Cyclic ADP-ribose (cADPR) is a nucleotide synthesized from beta-NAD- that can trigger or facilitate Ca2+-release through ryanodine-channels. We investigated the synthesis of cADPR (ADPR-cyclase activity) in cultured vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMC) from rat aorta in response to incubation with all-trans-retinoic acid (RA), 3,3',5'-triiodothyronine (T3), cortisol, beta-estradiol and 1-dehydrotestosterone. Only RA and T3 caused concentration-dependent (10(-9)-10(-6) M) stimulation of ADPR-cyclase activity in VSMC. Maximum stimulatory responses to RA (+100%) and T3 (+40%) were additive and the stimulatory effects of both hormones on ADPR-cyclase were due to an increase in Vmax without changes in the apparent Km. These observations indicate that in VSMC synthesis of cADPR can be upregulated by RA and T3. We propose that some of the actions of RA on VSMC such as enhancement of contractile competence, differentiation, and anti-proliferative effects might be elicited, at least in part, via upregulation of the cADPR/Ca2+-release signaling system.