Caveolin-1 is a plasma membrane-associated protein that is responsible for caveolae formation. It plays an important role in the regulation of the function of different signaling molecules, among which are the different isoforms of nitric oxide synthase (NOS). Nitric oxide (NO) is known to be an important inhibitory mediator in the mouse gut. Caveolin-1 knockout mice (Cav1(-/-)) were used to examine the effect of caveolin-1 absence on the NO function in the mouse small intestine (ileum and jejunum) compared to their genetic controls and BALB/c controls. Immunohistochemical staining showed loss of caveolin-1 and NOS in the jejunal smooth muscles and myenteric plexus interstitial cells of Cajal (ICC) of Cav1(-/-) mice; however, nNOS immunoreactive nerves were still present in myenteric ganglia. Under nonadrenergic noncholinergic (NANC) conditions, small intestinal tissues from Cav1(-/-) mice relaxed to electrical field stimulation (EFS), as did tissues from control mice. Relaxation of tissues from control mice was markedly reduced by N-omega-nitro-L-arginine (10(-4) M), but relaxation of Cav1(-/-) animals was affected much less. Also, Cav1(-/-) mice tissues showed reduced relaxation responses to sodium nitroprusside (100 microM) compared to controls; yet there were no significant differences in the relaxation responses to 8-bromoguanosine-3' 5'-cyclic monophosphate (100 microM). Apamin (10(-6) M) significantly reduced relaxations to EFS in NANC conditions in Cav1(-/-) mice, but not in controls. The data from this study suggest that caveolin-1 gene knockout causes alterations in the smooth muscles and the ICC, leading to an impaired NO function in the mouse small intestine that could possibly be compensated by apamin-sensitive inhibitory mediators.