Endothelin-like immunoreactivity was detected in human (15.6 +/- 2.7 pg/ml) and bovine (11.1 +/- 0.98 pg/ml) aqueous humour of the eye. These concentrations are 2-3 times higher than the corresponding plasma levels. Cultured human nonpigmented ciliary epithelial cells released endothelin-like immunoreactivity with a maximum of 2.1 +/- 0.32 pg/(cm2* 48 h). The release was stimulated by fetal calf serum, thrombin, carbachol and phorbol ester and blocked by cycloheximide. Immunocytochemistry showed cytoplasmic staining of cultured human nonpigmented ciliary epithelial cells for endothelin-1. Endothelin-1 was shown to induce contractions in isolated human ciliary muscle by isometric force measurements. Endothelin in the aqueous humour may play a role in the regulation of intraocular pressure.