The effect of endothelins on corneal endothelial cells is not well understood. We have investigated the effects of endothelin-1 (ET-1), endothelin-2 (ET-2) and endothelin-3 (ET-3) on bovine corneal endothelial cellular proliferation and the secondary messenger changes in cells in the presence of ET-1. It was found that the 3H-thymidine uptake was enhanced by ET-1 significantly, whereas ET-2 and ET-3 had no effect. ET-1 remarkably affects the increase of corneal endothelial cells on 3H-thymidine, 3H-leucine, and 3H-uridine uptakes in a dose-dependent manner. The 50% effective concentrations (EC50) for ET-1, as measured by 3H-thymidine uptake, 3H-uridine uptake, and 3H-leucine uptake were 10(-8.78) M, 10(-8.53) M and 10(-8.04) M, respectively. It was found that endothelin-1 increased intracellular calcium concentration by using the method of preloading with Fura-2-AM and assaying with spectrophotometry. The cellular IP1, IP2, and IP3 were also stimulated in the presence of ET-1. Moreover, ET-1 enhanced the basal cellular cAMP and cGMP concentrations in corneal endothelial cells in a dose-dependent manner. Immunofluorescent staining revealed that ET-1 increased the fibronectin protein concentration and changed protein distribution in corneal endothelial cells. These findings indicate that endothelin-1 increases in cell proliferation and biological changes may be involved in changing intracellular calcium mobility, increasing intracellular phosphoinositides, enhancing intracellular cGMP and cAMP accumulation, and fibronectin protein synthesis.