In 11 healthy volunteers, we evaluated, in a double-blind crossover study, whether the vasodilation that follows isometric contraction is mediated by prostaglandins (PGs) and/or is O-2 dependent. Subjects performed isometric handgrip for 2 min at 60% maximal voluntary contraction (MVC), after pretreatment with placebo or aspirin (600 mg orally), when breathing air or 40% O-2. Forearm blood flow was measured in the dominant forearm by venous occlusion plethysmography. Arterial blood pressure was also recorded, allowing calculation of forearm vascular conductance (FVC; forearm blood flow/arterial blood pressure). During air breathing, aspirin significantly reduced the increase in FVC that followed contraction at 60% MVC: from a baseline of 0.09 +/- 0.011 [ mean +/- SE, conductance units (CU)], the peak value was reduced from 0.24 +/- 0.03 to 0.14 +/- 0.01 CU. Breathing 40% O-2 similarly reduced the increase in FVC relative to that evoked when breathing air; the peak value was 0.24 +/- 0.03 vs. 0.15 +/- 0.02 CU. However, after aspirin, breathing 40% O-2 had no further effect on the contraction-evoked increase in FVC ( the peak value was 0.15 +/- 0.02 vs. 0.16 +/- 0.02 CU). Thus the present study indicates that prostaglandins make a substantial contribution to the peak of the vasodilation that follows isometric contraction of forearm muscles at 60% MVC. Given that hyperoxia similarly reduced the vasodilation and attenuated the effect of aspirin, we propose that the stimulus for prostaglandin synthesis and release is hypoxia of the endothelium.