This study examined the effect of erythropoietin (EPO) on resting tension and on the responses of rat mesenteric and renal arcuate arteries in vitro to a number of agonists as a possible cause of its blood pressure elevating properties when used therapeutically. Noradrenaline and potassium chloride induced concentration-dependent vasoconstrictions in both vessel types but the basal tension, maximum tension, and the -log concentration producing half-maximal response (pEC50) were altered in the presence of 0.1 or 20 U ml-1 EPO. The thromboxane A2 receptor agonist U46619 induced a constriction of the renal arcuate arteries which was enhanced by EPO at 20 U ml-1, from 1.68 +/- 0.34 to 2.64 +/- 0.39 mN mm-1 (P < 0.01), but which was unchanged by NG-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester (10-4 m). Serotonin (10-9-10-5 M) caused a concentration-related vasoconstriction in renal arcuate arteries which was shifted to the right in the time control study (P < 0.001) but this was abolished by both 0.1 and 20 U ml-1 of EPO. Acetylcholine induced a relaxation of precontracted mesenteric arteries, by 95.4 +/- 1.64 % with an EC50 of 7.08 +/- 0.08 M which was reduced (P < 0.001) by 20 U ml-1 EPO to 81.7 +/- 3.56 % and 6.10 +/- 0.11 M, respectively. The sodium nitroprusside-induced relaxations were unaffected by EPO. The acetylcholine-mediated relaxations in renal arcuate arteries were unchanged by EPO. Bradykinin-induced relaxations in mesenteric and renal arcuate arteries were unaffected by both EPO concentrations. Together these data showed that EPO over a large concentration range had only minor effects on basal tension and the vascular responsiveness of both mesenteric and renal arcuate arteries. The mechanism whereby EPO causes a chronic elevation in blood pressure is unlikely to be due to acute interactions with agonist-mediated responses.