The effects of the superoxide anion generators, pyrogallol and hydroquinone on relaxations induced by electrical field stimulation (70 V, 0.7 msec., 0.5-8 Hz for 5 sec.) and exogenous nitric oxide donor sodium nitroprusside, were investigated in rat penile bulb precontracted with phenylephrine (10(-4) M). Pyrogallol (10(-4) M, 3 X 10(-4) M) and hydroquinone (3 X 10(-4) M) reduced the relaxations induced by sodium nitroprusside, but had no effect on relaxations elicited by nitrergic nerve stimulation. After treatment with diethyldithiocarbamate (3 X 10(-3) M), an inhibitor of Cu/Zn superoxide dismutase, both agents reduced the relaxations induced by electrical field stimulation. Superoxide dismutase, at 300 U/ml, significantly reversed the inhibitory action of pyrogallol and hydroquinone on responses to sodium nitroprusside. This concentration of superoxide dismutase failed to reverse the inhibitory action of pyrogallol on responses to electrical field stimulation observed in the presence of diethyldithiocarbamate, while at 600 U/ml it significantly prevented the reduction in relaxations. However, even at 600 U/ml, superoxide dismutase did not alter the decrease in responses to electrical field stimulation evoked by hydroquinone in tissues pretreated with diethyldithiocarbamate. These results suggest that the nitrergic transmitter in rat penile bulb is protected against superoxide anions by endogenous Cu/Zn superoxide dismutase in a manner similar to gastric fundus and anococcygeus muscles.