Under pathological conditions such as ischemia (I), subarachnoid hemorrhage, and Alzheimer's disease, astrocytes show a large increase in endothelin (ET) -like immunoreactivity. However, it is not clear whether ET is protective or destructive to these cells during brain injury. Using astrocytes from ET-1-deficient mice, we determined the effect of ET-1 on these cells under normal, hypoxic (H), and hypoxic/ischemic (H/I) conditions. Under normal culture conditions, astrocytes from wild-type and ET-1-deficient mice showed no difference in their morphology and cell proliferation rates. ET-3 and ETA receptor mRNAs were up-regulated whereas ETB receptor mRNA was down-regulated in ET-1-deficient astrocytes, suggesting that ET-1 and ET-3 may complement each other's functions and that the expressions of these endothelins and their receptors are regulated by a complex feedback mechanism. Under H and H/I conditions, ET-1 peptide and mRNA were up-regulated in wild-type astrocytes, and the astrocytes without ET-1 died faster than the wild-type astrocytes, as indicated by greater efflux of lactate dehydrogenase. The present study suggests that astrocytes without ET-1 are more vulnerable to H and H/I injuries and that the up-regulation of astrocytic ET-1 is essential for the survival of astrocytes.