1. We compared the effects of inhibiting nitric oxide synthase (NOS), soluble guanylate cyclase (sGC) and K+ channel activation on dilator responses to acetylcholine (ACh) in rat resistance (hindquarters) and conduit arteries (thoracic aorta). 2. In rat perfused hindquarters, the NO synthase inhibitor N omega-nitro-L-arginine (L-NNA; 1 mmol/L) partially inhibited the ACh-induced dilatation and the combination of L-NNA + haemoglobin (Hb; 20 mumol/L), a NO scavenger, did not further affect the response. Exposure to high K+ (30 mmol/L) also inhibited the response to ACh and this response was further reduced by L-NNA + high K+. Surprisingly, when applied alone 1H-[1,2,4]oxadiazolo[4,3-a]quinoxalin-1-one (ODQ), an inhibitor of sGC, did not affect responses to ACh, whereas treatment with ODQ + high K+ markedly impaired dilatation. 3. In aortic rings precontracted with phenylephrine (PE; 0.01-1 mumol/L), the maximum relaxation to ACh was significantly reduced by L-NNA (0.1 mmol/L) and further inhibited by L-NNA + Hb (20 mumol/L). At 10 mumol/L, ODQ alone inhibited the maximum relaxation to ACh, which was further reduced by ODQ + high K+ (30 mmol/L). High K+ caused a smaller but significant inhibition of ACh-induced relaxation. 4. These results suggest that NO and cGMP play a relatively greater role in ACh-induced dilatation of the aorta compared with the hindquarters resistance vasculature and are consistent with the hypothesis that a non-NO endothelium-derived hyperpolarizing factor (endothelium-derived hyperpolarizing factor; EDHF) makes a relatively greater contribution to dilatation of resistance vessels than in conduit arteries. The data suggest that when sGC is inhibited, a compensatory mechanism involving K+ channel opening by NO can largely maintain ACh-induced vasodilator responses of resistance vessels. Furthermore, when NO synthesis is blocked, a non-NO EDHF may play a role in ACh-induced dilatation of the resistance vasculature.