It has been previously reported that sauna therapy, a thermal therapy, improves the hemodynamics and clinical symptoms in patients with chronic heart failure and also improves endothelial function, which is impaired in such patients. The present study investigated whether the improvements observed with sauna therapy are through modulation of arterial endothelial nitric oxide synthase (eNOS) expression. Eight male Syrian golden hamsters underwent sauna therapy, using an experimental far infrared-ray dry sauna system, at 39 degrees C for 15 min followed by 30 degrees C for 20 min daily for 4 weeks. Control group hamsters were placed in the sauna system switched off at room temperature of 24 degrees C for 35 min. Immunohistochemistry found greater amounts of the immunoreactive products of eNOS in the endothelial cells of the aorta and carotid, femoral and coronary arteries in the sauna group than in the control group. Western blot analysis also revealed that 4-week sauna therapy significantly increased eNOS expression in aortas by 50% in 4 series of independent experiments with an identical protocol (p<0.01). In reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction assay, the eNOS mRNA in aortas was greater in the sauna group than in controls, with a peak at 1-week of sauna therapy (approximately 40-fold increase). In conclusion, repeated thermal therapy upregulates eNOS expression in arterial endothelium.