The effect of levcromakalim, an ATP-sensitive K+ channel opener, on isolated subcutaneous arteries from mammary tissues obtained from female patients undergoing reconstructive breast surgery was investigated. The small arteries were preserved in the University of Wisconsin (UW) solution. The contractile responses to K+ and 9,11-dideoxy-11a,9a-epoxy-methano-prostaglandin F2 alpha (U46619) and the relexant responses to levcromakalim and to the endothelium-dependent vasodilator, methacholine, in these arteries remained fully intact after preservation in UW solution for at least 5 days. The pD2 value and maximal relaxation obtained from the concentration-response curve of levcromakalim (n = 7) were 5.78 +/- 0.23 and 81 +/- 6%, respectively. The vasodilator effect of levcromakalim was significantly antagonised by the ATP-sensitive K+ channel blocker, glibenclamide (1 and 3 microM). In conclusion, isolated human arteries contain ATP-sensitive K+ channels, which can be modulated by K+ channel openers and blockers. Subcutaneous small arteries, as used in our experiments, appear to be very suitable for pharmacological experiments.