ATP-sensitive potassium channel openers are used as vasodilators in the treatment of cardiovascular disorders. The effects of i.v. anaesthetics on arterial relaxation induced by ATP-sensitive potassium channel openers have not been studied. Therefore, in this study, we have examined if thiopental (thiopentone) and propofol affect the vascular response to the ATP-sensitive potassium channel openers, cromakalim and pinacidil, in the isolated rat aorta. Rings of rat thoracic aortas without endothelium were suspended for isometric force recording. Concentration-response curves were obtained in a cumulative manner. During submaximal contractions with phenylephrine 0.3 mumol litre-1, relaxation after cromakalim 0.1-30 mumol litre-1, pinacidil 0.1-30 mumol litre-1 and papaverine 0.1-300 mumol litre-1 was demonstrated. Thiopental 30-300 mumol litre-1, propofol 10-100 mumol litre-1, 10% Intralipid 45 microliters or glibenclamide 5 mumol litre-1 were applied 15 min before addition of phenylephrine. During contractions with phenylephrine, cromakalim and pinacidil induced concentration-dependent relaxation. A selective ATP-sensitive potassium channel antagonist, glibenclamide 5 mumol litre-1, abolished this relaxation, whereas it did not affect relaxation produced by papaverine. Thiopental concentrations > 30 mumol litre-1 significantly impaired relaxation produced by cromakalim or pinacidil. Propofol concentrations > 10 mumol litre-1 also significantly reduced relaxation produced by cromakalim or pinacidil, whereas Intralipid was ineffective. Thiopental 300 mumol litre-1 and propofol 100 mumol litre-1 did not alter relaxation produced by papaverine. These results suggest that the i.v. anaesthetics, thiopental and propofol, impaired vasodilatation mediated by ATP-sensitive potassium channels in vascular smooth muscle cells.