Acetazolamide and other related carbonic anhydrase (CA) inhibitors have had a long history of effectiveness in prevention and treatment of acute mountain sickness (AMS) and remain the standard of care for this indication. Despite many decades of CA inhibitor use for AMS, the possibility has never been seriously entertained that these drugs might also afford protection against high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE). In this paper, I will present our evidence and supporting data of others, that acetazolamide has inhibitory effects on the hypoxic response of the pulmonary circulation that may be useful in HAPE. Data from pulmonary artery smooth muscle cells, isolated perfused lungs, and live unanethetized animals all point to a potent reduction in hypoxic pulmonary vasoconstriction (HPV) by acetazolamide that may have clinical utility in HAPE and possibly other pulmonary hypertensive disorders. Astonishingly, the efficacy of acetazolamide as a HPV inhibitor does not appear to be related to carbonic anhydrase inhibition, since other potent CA inhibitors have no effect on HPV either in the conscious dog or on hypoxic calcium (Ca(2+)) signalling in rat pulmonary artery smooth muscle cells, despite enzyme presence in these cells. Although we have not yet determined the mechanism of action for acetazolamide in HPV, we have ruled out actions on membrane L-type Ca(2+) channels, normoxic and hypoxic membrane potential and rho-kinase activation. Based upon these negative findings in isolated pulmonary artery smooth muscle cells and preliminary data in Ca(2+) free media we propose that acetazolamide may act at the level of Ca(2+) release from the sarcoplasmic reticulum, a process which initiates and amplifies cell membrane Ca(2+) channel opening. In further work, we have developed and will use a methylated analog of acetazolamide to yield a molecule lacking CA inhibiting activity, but which in most other respects (size, pK(a), heterocyclic ring structure, electrostatic charge distribution) is equivalent to acetazolamide.