We tested whether activation of inwardly rectifying K+ (Kir) channels, Na+-K+-ATPase, or nitric oxide synthase (NOS) play a role in K+-induced dilatation of the rat basilar artery in vivo. When cerebrospinal fluid [K+] was elevated from 3 to 5, 10, 15, 20, and 30 mM, a reproducible concentration-dependent vasodilator response was elicited (change in diameter = 9 ± 1, 27 ± 4, 35 ± 4, 43 ± 12, and 47 ± 16%, respectively). Responses to K+ were inhibited by ∼50% by the Kir channel inhibitor BaCl2 (30 and 100 μM). In contrast, neither ouabain (1–100 μM, a Na+-K+-ATPase inhibitor) nor N G-nitro-l-arginine (30 μM, a NOS inhibitor) had any effect on K+-induced vasodilatation. These concentrations of K+ also hyperpolarized smooth muscle in isolated segments of basilar artery, and these hyperpolarizations were virtually abolished by 30 μM BaCl2. RT-PCR experiments confirmed the presence of mRNA for Kir2.1 in the basilar artery. Thus K+-induced dilatation of the basilar artery in vivo appears to partly involve hyperpolarization mediated by Kir channel activity and possibly another mechanism that does not involve hyperpolarization, activation of Na+-K+-ATPase, or NOS.