The acute effects of various vasopressor agents on the diameter of the common carotid artery were studied in halothane-anesthetized normotensive rats. The animals were infused intravenously for 60 min with equipressor doses of angiotensin II (10 ng/min), the alpha1-stimulant methoxamine (5 microg/min), lysine vasopressin (5 mU/min), or vehicle. The arterial diameter was measured by using a high-resolution ultrasonic echo-tracking device. The three vasoconstrictors increased the carotid artery diameter, but this effect was significantly more pronounced with lysine vasopressin. Even a nonpressor dose of lysine vasopressin (1 mU/min) caused a significant increase in the arterial diameter. The lysine vasopressin-induced vasodilatation could be prevented by the administration of d(CH2)5Tyr(Me)AVP (10 microg, i.v.), a selective V1-vasopressinergic receptor antagonist. These data therefore suggest that a short-term increase in blood pressure induces in rats a distention of the carotid artery. The increase in arterial diameter seems to involve an active mechanism with lysine vasopressin caused by the stimulation of V1-vasopressinergic receptors.