Endothelins (ET-1, ET-2 and ET-3) are 21-amino acid vasoactive peptides that bind to G-protein-linked transmembrane receptors, ET-RA and ET-RB. As well as modulating vasoconstriction, endothelins regulate growth in several cell types and may also affect differentiation, inflammation and angiogenesis. Both macrophages and endothelins are found in areas of hypoxia in solid tumors and ET-2 expression may be modulated by hypoxia in some tumors. As the peptide structure of mature endothelins is similar to that of CXC chemokines, we asked if endothelins contribute to control of macrophage distribution in tumors. We found that ET-2 is a chemoattractant for macrophages and THP-1 monocytic cells, but not for freshly isolated monocytes. The chemotactic response to ET-2 shows a typical bell-shaped response curve. Experiments with endothelin receptor antagonists showed that migration to ET-2 is mediated via the ET-RB receptor. Moreover, monocytes do not express ET-RB. Chemotaxis towards ET-2 is via the MAPK pathway: p44 and p42 are phosphorylated when THP-1 cells are stimulated with ET-2, and the MAPKK inhibitor PD98059 stops chemotaxis. As with 'classical' chemokines, migration toET-2 is also inhibited by hypoxia and by pertussis toxin. As well as its chemotactic properties, ET-2 leads to activation of macrophages. In human breast tumors that express ET-2, endothelins and ET-RB expressing macrophages often co-localized. While shorter than 'classical' chemokines, ET-2 shares a similar peptide sequence with chemokines and may signal via a similar receptor and MAPK-mediated pathway. Furthermore, ET-2 expression by tumors may modulate the behavior of macrophages such that activated cells accumulate in areas of hypoxia.