Endothelin (ET) is a peptide composed of 21 amino acids, derived from a larger precursor, the big-endothelin, by action of the endothelin-converting enzyme (ECE) family; three isoforms of endothelin, named ET-1, ET-2 and ET-3, have been identified. Endothelin-1 is generated mainly by vascular endothelial cells and exerts various important biological actions, mediated by two receptor subtypes, ET-A and ET-B, belonging to the G protein-coupled family that have been identified in various human tissues such as the cardiac tissue. Endothelin-1 is a potent vasoconstrictive agent, has inotropic and mitogenic actions, modulates salt and water homeostasis and plays an important role in the maintenance of vascular tone and blood pressure in healthy subjects. Endothelin-1, as well as ET-A and ECE-1, also has an important role in cardiovascular development, as observed by the variety of abnormalities related to neural crest-derived tissues in mouse embryos deficient of a member of the ET-1/ECE-1/ET-A pathway. Various evidence indicates that endogenous endothelin-1 may contribute to the pathophysiology of conditions associated with sustained vasoconstriction, such as heart failure. In heart failure, elevated circulating levels of both endothelin-1 and big-endothelin-1 are observed; in failing hearts an activation of the endothelin system is found: tissue level of ET-1 is increased with respect to non-failing hearts as well as receptor density, due mainly to an upregulation of the ET-A subtype, the prevalent receptor subclass in cardiac tissue. Finally, studies in both humans and animal models of cardiovascular disease show that inhibition of the endothelin function (anti-endothelin strategy) is associated with an improvement of haemodynamic conditions; these observations indicate that endothelin receptor antagonists or endothelin-converting enzyme inhibitors may constitute a novel and potentially important class of agents for the treatment of this disease.
Copyright 2001 Academic Press.