The contribution of nitric oxide to mesenteric arterial vasodilator responses was investigated in the isolated perfused mesenteric arterial bed of cirrhotic rats (carbon tetrachloride/phenobarbitone; n = 6). Age- matched (n = 9) and phenobarbitone-treated rats (n = 9) served as controls. Responses to the endothelium-dependent dilators acetylcholine and adenosine 5′-triphosphate (ATP) and the smooth muscle dilator (NO donor) sodium nitroprusside were investigated after tone was raised by continuous infusion of methoxamine, before and during infusion of the NO synthesis inhibitor NG-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester (L-NAME; 30 μmol/L) ± L-arginine (1 mmol/L). A significant hyporesponsiveness to methoxamine infusion in cirrhotic preparations (P < .05) was not fully corrected by L-NAME. There was no difference in the percentage vasodilator response to acetylcholine in the cirrhotic group compared with controls; L-NAME significantly and reversibly inhibited the dilator response in all groups. ATP elicited dose-dependent vasodilation that, in the absence of L-NAME, did not differ between the groups. By contrast, in the presence of L-NAME, ATP (5 × 10-8 mol) produced pronounced, reversible vasoconstriction only in cirrhotic animals (P < .02). Vasodilatation attributable to sodium nitroprusside (5 × 10-8 mol) was significantly attenuated in cirrhotic rats. The methoxamine data support the concept of mesenteric hyposensitivity to vasoconstrictor agents in cirrhosis that may be at least partly NO mediated. Increased NO activity in smooth muscle leading to decreased guanylate cyclase availability may account for the diminished vasodilator responses to sodium nitroprusside in cirrhotic preparations. The unchanged responsiveness to vasodilatation by acetylcholine (ACh) and the vasoconstriction to ATP observed during NO blockade in cirrhotic animals indicate that mesenteric endothelial NO is unchanged or possibly diminished.