Background/aims: Hepatic concentration of endothelin-1 (ET-1) is increased in human and experimental liver cirrhosis. Because of its potent actions in the liver, ET-1 has been suggested to play an important role in the pathophysiology of cirrhosis. Since hepatocytes are the major cell type to metabolize ET-1, we investigated whether their reduced capacity to degrade ET-1 is a mechanism of its elevated levels in cirrhosis.
Methods: The expression of ET-1 receptors, ET-1 and endothelin converting enzyme (ECE), and metabolism of ET-1 and ECE activity were compared in hepatocytes isolated from control and carbon tetrachloride-induced cirrhotic rats.
Results: ET-1 receptor density and receptor-mediated internalization of ET-1 were significantly increased in cirrhotic hepatocytes relative to the control cells. However, compared to control hepatocytes, metabolism of ET-1 by the cirrhotic cells was reduced significantly. Interestingly, hepatocytes were found to contain preproET-1 mRNA, ECE-1 mRNA and ET-1. PreproET-1 mRNA and ET-1 levels were increased in cirrhotic hepatocytes but their ECE mRNA and ECE activity were not altered.
Conclusions: These results provide the first evidence that hepatocytes have the ability to synthesize ET-1 and demonstrate that decreased metabolism and enhanced synthesis, of ET-1 in hepatocytes are an important mechanism of its elevated levels in cirrhosis.