Contractile responses of canine tracheal smooth muscle to electrical field stimulation diminished over a 2-h period of incubation. However, addition of indomethacin (10(-5) M) for a similar time not only prevented this inhibition of contractile response, but actually markedly increased the response to electrical field stimulation, suggesting that prostaglandins were responsible for the time-dependent inhibition. Measured prostaglandin E2 increased in the tissue bath over 2 h in control tissues. Addition of prostaglandin E2 to the tissue produced similar inhibition of contractile responses to electrical field stimulation in a concentration-dependent manner. In contrast, incubation alone, treatment with indomethacin, or addition of prostaglandin E2 had little, if any, effect on contractions induced by acetylcholine. We conclude that the release of prostaglandins from canine tracheal smooth muscle that occurs with time has a predominantly inhibitory effect on cholinergic neurotransmission at a prejunctional site.