Exposure to mercury has detrimental effects on the cardiovascular system, particularly the vascular endothelium. The present study aimed to investigate the effects of ergothioneine (EGT) on endothelial dysfunction induced by low-dose mercury chloride (HgCl2). Agonist-induced contractions and relaxations were evaluated in isolated aortic rings from 3-month-old male Wistar rats treated by intra-muscular injection to caudal hind leg muscle with HgCl2 (first dose, 4.6 mu g/kg; subsequent doses, 0.07 mu g/kg/day for 15 days) and optionally with EGT (2 mu g/kg for 30 days). Reactive oxygen species (ROS) in aortic rings were measured by means of lucigenin- and luminol-enhanced chemiluminescence. The protein level of endothelial nitric oxide synthase was evaluated by ELISA. Blood glutathione (GSH) and catalase levels, lipid peroxidation and total nitrite were measured spectrophotometrically. The results indicated that low-dose HgCl2 administration impaired acetylcholine (ACh)-induced relaxation and potentiated phenylephrine-and serotonin-induced contractions in rat aortas. In addition, HgCl2 significantly increased the levels of ROS in the aortic tissue. EGT prevented the loss of ACh-induced relaxations and the increase in contractile responses. These effects were accompanied by a significant decrease in ROS levels. EGT also improved the ratio of reduced GSH to oxidized GSH and catalase levels with a concomitant decrease in lipid peroxidation. In conclusion, to the best of our knowledge, the present study was the first to report that EGT prevents endothelial dysfunction induced by low-dose HgCl2 administration. EGT may serve as a therapeutic tool to reduce mercury-associated cardiovascular complications via improving the antioxidant status.