Regulation of smooth muscle contractility is essential for many important biological processes such as tissue perfusion, cardiovascular haemostasis and gastrointestinal motility. While an increase in calcium initiates smooth muscle contraction, relaxation can be induced by cGMP or cAMP. cGMP-dependent protein kinase I (cGKI) has been suggested as a major mediator of the relaxant effects of both nucleotides. To study the biological role of cGKI and its postulated cross-activation by cAMP, we inactivated the gene coding for cGKI in mice. Loss of cGKI abolishes nitric oxide (NO)/cGMP-dependent relaxation of smooth muscle, resulting in severe vascular and intestinal dysfunctions. However, cGKI-deficient smooth muscle responded normally to cAMP, indicating that cAMP and cGMP signal via independent pathways, with cGKI being the specific mediator of the NO/cGMP effects in murine smooth muscle.