Subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH) is associated with impaired nitric oxide (NO)-mediated cerebral vasodilatation. We tested the hypothesis that SAH causes alterations in the production of, hydrolysis of, or responsiveness to cGMP in the rat basilar artery in vivo. Rats were injected with saline or autologous blood into the cisterna magna. Two days later, effects of vasoactive drugs on basilar artery diameter were examined using a cranial window preparation. Vasodilator responses to ACh, sodium nitroprusside (SNP), and low concentrations (=10(-5) M) of zaprinast, an inhibitor of phosphodiesterase V (PDE V), were impaired in SAH rats (P < 0.05). In contrast, vasodilator responses to adenosine and 8-BrcGMP were similar in control and SAH rats. Vasoconstrictor responses to 1H-[1,2,4]oxadiazolo[4,3,-a]quinoxalin-1-one, an inhibitor of soluble guanylate cyclase, were unaffected by SAH. In the presence of zaprinast (10(-5)-10(-4) M), responses to ACh and SNP were equivalent in control and SAH rats. Thus an increased rate of cGMP hydrolysis by PDE V may be a major factor contributing to the impairment of NO-mediated cerebral vasodilatation after SAH.