To determine if endothelin 1 (Et1) receptors are present in human glomeruli, and which glomerular cells possess these receptors, 125I Et1 binding to isolated glomeruli and cultured glomerular mesangial and epithelial cells was studied. The latter were identified as podocytes. We demonstrated that Et1 binds specifically and reversibly to isolated human glomeruli and to cultured glomerular mesangial and epithelial cells. Scatchard analysis of competitive inhibition of 125I Et1 binding gave the following results (m +/- SEM, n = 3): isolated glomeruli, Kd = 4.2 +/- 2.1 x 10(-10) M, Bmax = 8.1 +/- 1.2 x 10(10) sites/mg protein; mesangial cells, Kd = 5.2 +/- 1.5 x 10(-10) M, Bmax = 1.87 +/- 0.49 x 10(4) sites/cell; epithelial cells, Kd = 7.2 +/- 1.5 x 10(-10) M, Bmax = 2.46 +/- 0.15 x 10(4) sites/cell. These receptors seem to be functional, since in both mesangial and epithelial cells Et1 induces a rapid and transient increase in intracellular [Ca2+]i. All these results indicate that Et1 may regulate glomerular filtration rate through an autocrine-paracrine pathway on mesangial cells and on podocytes.