Desmopressin, (DDAVP; 1-desamino-8-D-arginine vasopressin) increases the release and activity of von Willebrand factor (vWF); however, its effects on the other major constituent of endothelial Weibel-Palade bodies, P-selectin, has not been investigated. DDAVP-induced P-selectin expression may explain DDAVP's efficacy in bleeding disorders in which vWF levels are normal. Therefore, the objective of this study is to assess the effect of DDAVP on P-selectin expression on endothelial cells of postcapillary venules in vivo and on human umbilical vein endothelium in vitro, and to determine whether DDAVP has direct effects on leukocyte behavior in postcapillary venules. DDAVP (0.1 and 1.0 microgram/mL) induced a significant but transient increase in P-selectin expression on human umbilical vein endothelial cells as well as on rat and human platelets. Immunohistochemical analysis of rat postcapillary venules showed that in contrast to saline, DDAVP injection (1 microgram/kg, intravenous) induced significant endothelial P-selectin expression. DDAVP administration also induced a rapid and significant increase in leukocyte rolling in rat mesenteric venules in vivo. This response was entirely dependent on P-selectin, as an anti-P-selectin antibody rapidly reversed the DDAVP-induced increase in leukocyte rolling. DDAVP induced leukocyte rolling in medium (20 to 40 microns) and large (> 40 microns), but not small (< 20 microns), postcapillary venules. In animals that were treated with DDAVP, there was a steady and significant increase in leukocyte adhesion. This study shows that DDAVP can directly induce P-selectin expression on endothelium in vitro and in vivo and that the latter response is capable of supporting prolonged leukocyte rolling in rat postcapillary venules.