Shear stress or vasocontriction causes endothelial nitric oxide (NO) release resulting in the regulation of vascular smooth muscle tone in small resistance arteries. Generation of NO is inhibited by nitric oxide synthase (NOS) inhibitors. In this study, we investigated the effect of residual NO, released even in the presence of NOS inhibitors, on the membrane depolarization and phenylephrine-induced contractions of smooth muscle. For this purpose, we used hydroxocobalamin (HC), an NO scavenger, in the presence of NOS inhibitiors, N omega-nitro-Larginine (L-NA) or N omega-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester (L-NAME) in mesenteric arteries isolated from rats. Phenylephrine (0,01-10 mu M) , an alpha(1)-ayadrenoceptor agonist, led to depolarisation and concentration-dependent contraction in mesenteric arteries. The depolarisation and contractile responses were augmented by L-NA or L-NAME. Hydroxocobalamine (HC) or carboxy-PTIO (c-PTIO) also caused to further increase the membrane depolarization and contractions induced by phenylephrine in the presence of NOS inhibitors. Chemical removal of endothelium by saponin, tyrosin kinase inhibitor erbstatin A, but not calmodulin inhibitor calmidazolium inhibited the additional membrane depolarisation and contractile responses induced by L-NA or L-NAME and L-NA or L-NAME plus HC. These findings show that residual NO modulates the contractile responses in isolated rat mesenteric arteries by exerting a tonic inhibitor effect on the depolarization and vasoconstriction induced by phenylephrine.