Prostaglandin (PGE) is synthesized in the guinea pig taenia coli. A low threshold concentration for an effect of exogenous PGE1 or PGE2 on spontaneous mechanical activity was demonstrated. The PG synthetase inhibitors aspirin, indomethacin, and 5,8,11,14-eicosatetraynoic acid, at concentrations that inhibited PGE efflux, had effects on spontaneous mechanical activity, membrane potential, membrane resistance, and evoked and spontaneous action potentials (single and double sucrose-gap methods) that were consistent with an action due to inhibition of membrane PGE concentration. The threshold concentration of indomethacin, which inhibited PGE efflux, was the same as the concentration that inhibited spontaneous mechanical activity. Pretreatment with ouabain (10(-6)-10(-5) g/ml) or elevated extracellular K+ (29 and 126 mM) made the guinea pig taenia coli entirely refractory to exogenous PGE1 or PGE2; the mechanical effects of the three prostaglandin synthetase inhibitors also were absent in the presence of elevated K+ or ouabain. The data are consistent with a hypothesis that, under conditions of our experiments, endogenous PGE has an effect on resting tension and spontaneous mechanical activity and on properties of the surface membrane of the guinea pig taenia coli.