The mechanisms by which red wine polyphenolic compounds (RWPCs) induced endothelium-dependent relaxation were investigated in rat thoracic aorta rings with endothelium. RWPCs produced relaxation that was prevented by the nitric oxide (NO) synthase inhibitor, Nω-nitro-L-arginine-methyl-ester. This relaxation was abolished in the absence of extracellular calcium in the medium or in the presence of the Ca2+ entry blocker, La3+, but it was not affected by the nonselective K+ channels blocker, tetrabutylammonium. N-Ethylmaleimide (NEM), a sulfhydryl alkylating agent, abolished vasorelaxation produced by RWPCs and acetylcholine but not that produced either by the sarcoendoplasmic reticulum Ca2+-adenosine triphosphatase (ATPase) pump inhibitor, cyclopyazonic acid (CPA) or the calcium ionophore, ionomycin. Neither pertussis toxin (PTX) nor cholera toxin (CTX) inhibited the vasorelaxant effect of RWPC. The effect of RWPC was not affected by the phospholipase C (PLC) blocker, L-α-glycerophospho-D-myo-inositol 4-monophosphate (Gro-pip), and the phospholipase A2 pathway blockers, quinacrine and ONO-RS-082. Finally, the protein kinase C (PKC) inhibitor, GF 109203X, and tyrosine kinase inhibitors, tyrphostin A-23 and genistein, did not impair the response to RWPCs. These results suggest that RWPCs produce endothelium-NO-derived vasorelaxation through an extracellular Ca2+-dependent mechanism via an NEM-sensitive pathway. They also show that PTX- or CTX-sensitive G proteins, activation of PLC or PLA2 pathways, PKC, or tyrosine kinase may not be involved.