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After subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH), large cerebral arteries are prone to vasospasm. Using a rat model of SAH, we examined whether cortical microvessels demonstrate vasomotor changes that may make them prone to spasm and whether endothelial dysfunction may account for any observed changes. Two days after percutaneous catheterization into the cisterna magna, 0.3 mL of autologous blood was injected into the subarachnoid space. The brain tissue was harvested 20 min later, and microvessels were dissected from the parietal cortex. Vasomotor responses to the thromboxane analog U46619, the protein kinase C agonist phorbol acetate, endothelin-1, adenosine diphosphate, nitroprusside, and isoproterenol were examined in vitro in cerebral arterioles from the control, sham-operated, and SAH animals. Endothelial nitric oxide synthase (NOS3) messenger RNA and protein concentration was measured by northern and western blotting, respectively. Arterioles from the SAH animals demonstrated attenuated dilation to the endothelium-dependent dilator adenosine diphosphate and accentuated constriction to endothelin-1, while responses to the other agents tested were unchanged. NOS3 protein concentration was decreased, but NOS3 messenger RNA was increased after SAH. After SAH, cortical arterioles demonstrate endothelial dysfunction, which may be the basis for microvascular spasm. This is in part related to decreased NOS3, which occurs despite an increase in its transcription.