We investigated heterocellular communication in rat mesenteric arterial strips at the cellular level using confocal microscopy. To visualize Ca(2+) changes in different cell populations, smooth muscle cells (SMCs) were loaded with Fluo-4 and endothelial cells (ECs) with Fura red. SMC contraction was stimulated using high K(+) solution and Phenylephrine. Depending on vasoconstrictor concentration, intracellular Ca(2+) concentration ([Ca(2+)](i)) increased in a subpopulation of ECs 5-11s after a [Ca(2+)](i) rise was observed in adjacent SMCs. This time interval suggests chemical coupling between SMCs and ECs via gap junctions. As potential chemical mediators we investigated Ca(2+) or inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate (IP(3)). First, phospholipase C inhibitor U-73122 was added to prevent IP(3) production in response to the [Ca(2+)](i) increase in SMCs. In high K(+) solution, all SMCs presented global and synchronous [Ca(2+)](i) increase, but no [Ca(2+)](i) variations were detected in ECs. Second, 2-aminoethoxydiphenylborate, an inhibitor of IP(3)-induced Ca(2+) release, reduced the number of flashing ECs by 75+/-3% (n = 6). The number of flashing ECs was similarly reduced by adding the gap junction uncoupler palmitoleic acid. Thus, our results suggest a heterocellular communication through gap junctions from SMCs to ECs by diffusion, probably of IP(3).