Using fura 2-loaded vessels, we tested whether ouabain modulates endothelial cytoplasmic calcium concentration ([Ca(2+)](CYT)) in rat descending vasa recta (DVR). Over a broad range between 10(-10) and 10(-4) M, ouabain elicited biphasic peak and plateau [Ca(2+)](CYT) elevations. Blockade of voltage-gated Ca(2+) entry with nifedipine did not affect the response to ouabain mitigating against a role for myo-endothelial gap junctions. Reduction of extracellular Na(+) concentration ([Na(+)](o)) or Na(+)/Ca(2+) exchanger (NCX) inhibition with SEA-0400 (10(-6) M) elevated [Ca(2+)](CYT), supporting a role for NCX in the setting of basal [Ca(2+)](CYT). SEA-0400 abolished the [Ca(2+)](CYT) response to ouabain implicating NCX as a mediator. The transient peak phase of [Ca(2+)](CYT) elevation that followed either ouabain or reduction of [Na(+)](o) was abolished by 2-aminoethoxydiphenyl borate (5 x 10(-5) M). Cation channel blockade with La(3+) (10 muM) or SKF-96365 (10 muM) also attenuated the ouabain-induced [Ca(2+)](CYT) response. Ouabain pretreatment increased the [Ca(2+)](CYT) elevation elicited by bradykinin (10(-7) M). We conclude that inhibition of ouabain-sensitive Na(+)-K(+)-ATPase enhances DVR endothelial Ca(2+) store loading and modulates [Ca(2+)](CYT) signaling through mechanisms that involve NCX, Ca(2+) release, and cation channel activation.