Cirrhosis predisposes the liver to secondary stresses such as endotoxemia possibly via dysregulation of the hepatic portal circulation secondary to imbalanced upregulation of vascular stress genes. In this study we determined the effect of cirrhosis on hepatic vasoregulatory gene expression in response to endotoxin (LPS, i.p., 1 mg/kg). Cirrhosis was induced by bile duct ligation (BDL) for 21 days in male Sprague-Dawley rats. Plasma and liver samples were taken 6 h following an injection of LPS for alanine aminotransferase (ALT) assays and RT-PCR analysis of mRNA levels for genes of interest: endothelin (ET-1), its receptors ET(A) and ET(B), endothelial nitric oxide synthase (eNOS), inducible NOS (iNOS), and heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1). ALT release increased by 5.5-fold in the BDL animals and 9.9-fold in BDL + LPS compared to sham. ET-1 mRNA was increased by either LPS or BDL treatment alone and increased significantly more in BDL + LPS compared to sham + LPS. mRNA levels for ET(B) receptors showed no change, whereas ETA transcripts decreased in BDL animals compared to sham, with no significant difference between the saline and LPS treatment groups. The resultant increased ratio of ET(B) over ET(A) in BDL animals was reflected functionally in the portal pressure responses to ET(A) and ET(B) agonists ET-1 and IRL-1620 (a specific ETB receptor agonist). The pressor response to ET-1 was attenuated, while the response to IRL-1620 was similar in BDL and sham. eNOS mRNA levels did not increase in response to either BDL or LPS or a combination of both compared to sham. The increase in iNOS mRNA was attenuated in BDL + LPS compared to sham + LPS. HO-1 expression increased significantly in sham + LPS, but failed to increase in BDL + LPS. Taken collectively, significantly greater induction of the constrictor ET-1 over the dilation forces (i.e., eNOS, iNOS, and HO-1) was observed in BDL + LPS. This suggests a compromised ability of the cirrhotic liver to upregulate sufficient dilatory forces to counterbalance the constrictive effect of ET-1 upon a secondary insult of endotoxemia. These results may partly explain the increased susceptibility of cirrhotic livers to injury as a result of endotoxemia.