Hypothermic preservation of the organ for transplantation causes vascular damage; therefore, the preservation of vascular function is important for the organs to function correctly after transplantation. The aim of the present study is to evaluate the influence of prolonged cold storage (72 hours) on vascular responses to 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) and potassium chloride (KCI), each of which causes receptor-dependent and receptor-independent contractions, respectively. We also examined the protective roles of superoxide dismutase (SOD), L-arginine, the precursor of nitric oxide, iloprost, a synthetic analogue of prostaglandin 12 with vasodilator functions, or endothelium removal for vascular responses. Endothelium-intact rings were prepared from the rat thoracic aorta, and stored at 40 degrees C for up to 72 hours in Krebs solution alone or Krebs solution that contains SOD, L-arginine or iloprost. The vascular responses were investigated daily. The Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) followed by Dunn test was used for statistical analysis. Being kept in cold in Krebs solution diminished the vascular responses to 5-HT and KCI. The presence of SOD in Krebs solution successfully prevented the decline in these responses, while iloprost or L-arginine partially restored them. In the endothelium-denuded rings, the 5-HT-induced contraction remained protected after 72 hours, whereas the KCI-induced contraction was partially restored. These results indicate that cold preservation declines the 5-HT and KCI-induced vascular responses, which can be partially prevented by iloprost or L-arginine, and can be restored by endothelium removal or SOD. Therefore, superoxide anion and endothelium-derived factors contribute to the decline in the contracting function of the aorta during prolonged cold storage.