We investigated the role of early portal hypotensive pharmacotherapy in preventing the development of portal-systemic shunting in a portal hypertensive model of chronic murine schistosomiasis induced by infecting C3H mice with 60 cercariae of Schistosoma mansoni. Propranolol was administered in drinking water to 20 animals for a period of 6 wk at a dose of 10 mg.kg-1d-1, starting at 5 wk of schistosomal infection. 32 age-matched mice with chronic schistosomal infection served as controls. All animals were studied 11 wk after the infection. Compared with controls the portal pressure (10.8 +/- 0.40 mmHg) was significantly lower (P less than 0.001) in the propranolol-treated animals (7.9 +/- 0.80 mmHg). Portal-systemic shunting was decreased by 79%, from 12.2 +/- 3.34% in controls to 2.5 +/- 0.99% in the propranolol group (P less than 0.05). Portal venous inflow was reduced by 38% in the propranolol treated animals (2.50 +/- 0.73 ml/min; n = 6) compared with controls (4.00 +/- 0.34 ml/min; n = 8; P less than 0.05). The worm burden, the granulomatous reaction, the collagen content of the liver, and the serum bile acid levels were not significantly different between the two groups of animals. These results demonstrate that in chronic liver disease induced by schistosomiasis, the development of portal-systemic shunting can be decreased or prevented by the reduction of flow and pressure in the portal system.