We describe novel potent endothelin (ET) antagonists that are highly potent and selective for the ETA receptor (selective to ET-1). Of the synthetic analogs based on ETA antagonist BE-18257A isolated from Streptomyces misakiensis (IC50 value for ETA receptor on porcine aortic smooth muscle cells (VSMCs); 1.4 microM), the compounds BQ-123 and BQ-153 greatly improved the binding affinity of [125I]ET-1 for ETA receptors on VSMCs (IC50; 7.3 and 8.6 nM, respectively), whereas they barely inhibited [125I]ET-1 binding to ETB receptors (nonselective with respect to isopeptides of ET family) in the cerebellar membranes (IC50; 18 and 54 microM, respectively). Associated with the increased affinity for ETA receptors, these peptides antagonized ET-1-induced constriction of isolated porcine coronary artery. However, there was a small amount of ET-1-induced vasoconstriction resistant to these antagonists, which paralleled the incomplete inhibition of [125I]ET-1 binding in the membrane of the aortic smooth muscle layer. These data suggest that the artery has both ETA and ETB receptors responsible for ET-1-induced vasoconstriction. The antagonists shifted the concentration-response curve to the right for ET-1 in the coronary artery, and increased the apparent dissociation constant in the Scatchard analysis of [125I]ET-1 binding on the VSMCs without affecting the binding capacity, indicative of the competitive antagonism for ETA receptor. In conscious rats, pretreatment with the antagonists markedly antagonized ET-1-induced sustained pressor responses in dose-dependent fashion without affecting ET-1-induced transient depressor action, suggesting that the pressor action is mediated by ETA receptors, while the depressor action is mediated by ETB receptors. In addition, pretreatment with the potent antagonists prevented ET-1-induced sudden death in mice. Thus, these potent ETA antagonists should provide a powerful tool for exploring the therapeutic uses of ETA antagonists in putative ET-1-related disorders.