To assess the role of different neuroeffector systems in penile erection, pharmacological agents were tested in vitro using strips of corpus cavernosum tissue from the dog. Alpha-adrenoceptor agonists, K+ or histamine caused concentration-dependent contraction. Tyramine caused a poorly sustained contraction, as did nicotine in some cases. In precontracted preparations, relaxation was caused by beta2-adrenoceptor or muscarinic cholinoceptor agonists, or by vasoactive intestinal peptide. The results suggest that a noradrenergic alpha-adrenoceptor system maintains penile flaccidity in the dog. Penile erection may result from the activation of inhibitory beta2-adrenergic, muscarinic and/or peptidergic systems.