Nonadrenergic noncholinergic (NANC) contractile responses in guinea pig bronchi are due to the release of tachykinins from airway sensory nerves. The purpose of this study was to determine whether beta 2-receptor agonists modulate NANC contractions in guinea pig bronchi in vitro. Bronchial rings were suspended in organ baths for isometric measurement of tension, and comparable contractions were induced by electrical field stimulation (EFS; 40 V, 0.5 ms, 8 Hz for 20 s) or by exogenous substance P (3 microM). Aformoterol and salbutamol produced concentration-dependent inhibition of the NANC contraction, with aformoterol being ninefold more potent than salbutamol; approximate 50% inhibitory concentrations for aformoterol and salbutamol were 1.03 nM (n = 6) and 9.3 nM (n = 6), respectively. Aformoterol also inhibited the contraction induced by exogenous substance P but to a far lesser extent than its inhibition of EFS-induced responses. The inhibitory effects of formoterol (10 nM) on responses to EFS at 8 Hz were significantly prevented by propranolol (1 microM) and ICI 118551 (a beta 2-antagonist, 0.1 microM) but not by atenolol (a beta 1-antagonist, 1 microM) or phentolamine (10 microM). These experiments demonstrate that beta 2-agonists may modulate the release of tachykinins from airway sensory nerves by prejunctional receptors.