Endothelium-derived nitric oxide (EDNO) plays a pivotal role in regulating pulmonary circulation. To determine whether there is a heterogeneity in EDNO-mediated responses of different sized pulmonary vessels, we studied small and large isolated pulmonary arteries of newborn lambs (diameter, 0.4-0.7 and 1.5-2.5 mm, respectively). The isometric tension of vessel rings were recorded while suspended in organ chambers filled with modified Krebs-Ringer bicarbonate solution (95% O2-5% CO2, 37°C). In vessels preconstricted with norepinephrine, acetylcholine and bradykinin induced a greater relaxation of small pulmonary arteries than of large pulmonary arteries. Acetylcholine, bradykinin, and nitric oxide also induced a greater increase in cGMP content in small arteries than in large ones. The responses to acetylcholine and bradykinin were endothelium-dependent and inhibited by nitro-L-arginine, an inhibitor of nitric oxide synthase. In vessels without endothelium, the response to nitric oxide was inhibited by 1H-[1,2,4]oxadiazolo[4,3-a]quinoxalin-1-one, an inhibitor of soluble guanylate cyclase. The activity of soluble guanylyl cyclase of small arteries was greater than that of large arteries under basal conditions and after stimulation with S-nitroso-N-acetylpenicillamine, a nitric oxide donor. These results demonstrate that heterogeneity exists in EDNO-mediated relaxation of small and large pulmonary arteries in newborn lambs. A difference in the soluble guanylate cyclase activity of vascular smooth muscle may have contributed to this phenomenon.