We investigated effects of three kinds of putative protein kinase C (PKC) inhibitors, calphostin C, 1-(5-isoquinolinesulfonyl)-2-methylpiperazine (H-7), and stauro-sporine, on aortic muscle contractions induced by KCl, phenylephrine, 12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate (TPA), and phorbol 12, 13-dibutyrate (PDBu). Calphostin C noncompetitively inhibited TPA-induced contractions in a concentration-dependent manner. At 10(-6) M, calphostin C completely abolished responses to TPA and also effectively inhibited PDBu-induced contractions. Such a concentration of calphostin C had no effect on KCl-induced contractions but decreased the maximal tension of phenylephrine-induced response curve by 35.3 +/- 6.6% H-7 (10(-5) M had little effect on TPA-induced contraction but significantly inhibited contractile responses to phenylephrine and KCl. Staurosporine (10(-8) M, 3 x 10(-8) M) inhibited contractile responses to KCl, phenylephrine, and TPA. We suggest that staurosporine and H-7, which are known to act on the catalytic domain of PKC carrying high degree of sequence homology with other protein kinases, are relatively nonselective for PKC. On the other hand, calphostin C acting on the regulatory domain of PKC, which is distinct from other protein kinases, may serve as a relatively more selective PKC inhibitor.