In the current study, vasorelaxant effect produced by the aqueous extract of Melissa officinalis L. ssp. officinalis (MOO) (Lamiaceae) and its possible mechanism in isolated rat aortic rings precontracted with phenylephrine were examined. In the first series of experiments, effect of MOO on the baseline and phenylephrine (10(-5) M) precontracted arteries was investigated, while in the second group of experiments, endothelium intact or endothelium denuded effect was determined. The agents used were N-omega-nitro-L-arginine (L-NAME), an irreversible inhibitor of nitric oxide (NO) synthase, indomethacin (10 mu M), a cyclooxygenase (COX) inhibitor, and glibenclamide (10 mu M), an ATP-sensitive potassium channel blocker. The extract was found to exert a vasorelaxant effect and rosmarinic acid quantity, the characteristic compound of the plant, was analyzed by reversed-phase high-performance liquid chromatography (18.75%), and was further confirmed by LC-MS analysis giving a prominent [M+1] molecular ion peak at m/z 365. Total phenol amount in the extract was determined using Folin-Ciocalteau reagent (0.284 mg/mg extract). Vasorelaxant effect of the extract was entirely dependent on the presence of endothelium and was abolished by pretreatment with L-NAME, whereas pretreatment with indomethacin and glibenclamide reduced the relaxation to a minor extent. Rosmarinic acid was also tested in the same manner as the extract and was found to exert vasorelaxant effect. These results suggest that the aqueous extract of MOO vasodilates via nitric oxide pathway with the possible involvement of prostacycline and endothelium-derived hyperpolarizing factor (EDHF) pathways as well. (C) 2008 Elsevier GmbH. All rights reserved.