Prostaglandins are known to enhance the inflammatory and nociceptive actions of other chemical mediators of inflammation such as bradykinin. One possible mechanism for this sensitizing action is that prostanoids augment the release of neuroactive substances from sensory neurons. To initially test this hypothesis, we examined whether selected prostaglandins could enhance the resting or bradykinin-evoked release of immunoreactive substance P (iSP) and/or immunoreactive calcitonin gene-related peptide (iCGRP) from sensory neurons in culture. Bradykinin alone causes a concentration-dependent increase in the release of iSP and iCGRP from isolated sensory neurons, and this action is abolished in the absence of extracellular calcium. Pretreating the neurons with PGE2 (10 nM to 1 microM) potentiates the bradykinin-evoked release of both iSP and iCGRP by approximately two-to fourfold. At these concentrations, PGE2 alone did not significantly alter peptide release. Exposing the cultures to 1 microM PGF2 alpha is ineffective in altering either resting or bradykinin-evoked peptide release. Sensory neurons in culture contain cyclooxygenase-like immunoreactivity suggesting that the enzyme that converts arachidonic acid to prostaglandins is present. In addition, pretreating cultures with 14C- arachidonic acid yields radiolabeled eicosanoids that cochromatograph with known prostaglandin standards. Preexposing cultures to indomethacin abolishes the production of prostaglandins and attenuates the bradykinin-stimulated release of iSP and iCGRP. This implies that the synthesis of prostaglandins contributes to the bradykinin-evoked release of peptides. The augmentation of bradykinin-induced release of iSP and iCGRP by PGE2 may be one mechanism to account for the inflammatory and hyperalgesic actions of this eicosanoid.