A novel isolated perfused pulpal arteriole preparation and microperfusion system was used to evaluate the direct vasoactive responses of pulpal arterioles to selected agonists. Short lengths of porcine pulpal arterioles (101.7 +/- 2.21 mum o.d., n = 105) were dissected out and placed in an environment-controlled bath on the stage of an inverted microscope. Both ends of the vessel were cannulated and perfused at a controlled rate through the lumen. The diameter of the vessel was measured online. Following equilibration, the vessel was challenged with various agonists: adrenaline (epinephrine), noradrenaline (norepinephrine), phenylephrine, dopamine, isoproterenol, 5-hydroxytryptamine, histamine and adenosine. The endothelium-dependent vasodilator acetylcholine was used to evaluate endothelial cell function. Adrenaline, noradrenaline, phenylephrine, 5-hydroxytryptamine and dopamine caused dose-dependent contractions (adrenaline = noradrenaline > phenylephrine > dopamine > 5-hydroxytryptamine). Isoproterenol and histamine provoked a dose-dependent dilation. Adenosine produced pronounced vasodilatation in vessels precontracted with 10(-8) M endothelin-1. Functional adrenergic, histamine, 5-hydroxytryptamine and adenosine receptors are, therefore, present in porcine pulpal arterioles. The isolated perfused pulpal arteriole preparation may prove valuable in understanding local control mechanisms of pulpal microcirculation. (C) 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.