The adapter protein paxillin localizes to the focal adhesions of adherent cells and has been implicated in the regulation of cytoskeletal organization and cell motility. Paxillin undergoes tyrosine phosphorylation in response to the contractile stimulation of tracheal smooth muscle. We therefore hypothesized that paxillin may be involved in regulating smooth muscle contraction. Tracheal smooth muscle strips were treated with paxillin antisense oligonucleotides to inhibit the expression of paxillin protein selectively. Paxillin antisense or sense was introduced into muscle strips by reversible permeabilization and strips were incubated with antisense or sense for 3 days. Paxillin antisense selectively depressed paxillin expression, but it did not affect the expression of vinculin, focal adhesion kinase, myosin light chain kinase, myosin heavy chain or myosin light chain. Tension development in response to stimulation with ACh or KCl was markedly depressed in paxillin-depleted muscle strips. Active force and paxillin protein expression were restored by incubation of antisense-treated strips in the absence of oligonucleotides. The depletion of paxillin did not inhibit the increase in intracellular free Ca2+, myosin light chain phosphorylation or myosin ATPase activity in response to contractile stimulation. The concentration of G-actin was significantly lower in unstimulated paxillin-depleted smooth muscle tissues than in normal tissues. While stimulation with acetylcholine caused a decrease in G-actin in normal muscle strips, it caused little change in the G-actin concentration in paxillin-depleted muscle strips, suggesting that paxillin is necessary for normal actin dynamics in smooth muscle. We conclude that paxillin is required for active tension development in smooth muscle, but that it does not regulate increases in intracellular Ca2+, myosin light chain phosphorylation or myosin ATPase activity during contractile stimulation. Paxillin may be important in regulating actin filament dynamics and organization during smooth muscle contraction.