Since recent studies indicate that cyclosporine (CsA) disrupts endothelial integrity and that injured endothelial cells release excess endothelin, we examined endothelin's role in acute cyclosporine nephrotoxicity. Following CsA (20 mg/kg i.v.), rabbit anti-porcine endothelin (aE) serum was continuously infused into a first order branch of the main renal artery in Munich-Wistar rats whereupon the hemodynamics of glomeruli not infused with aE as well as those infused with aE within the same kidney were simultaneously assessed by micropuncture techniques. In CsA treated kidneys, in glomeruli not infused with aE, single nephron GFR (SNGFR) and glomerular plasma flow rate (QA) fell profoundly (on average by 42 and 48%, respectively) below the baseline values in association with lower glomerular capillary pressure and elevated afferent arteriolar resistance. By contrast, in glomeruli infused with aE within the same CsA treated kidneys, this vasoconstrictive pattern was markedly attenuated: SNGFR was, on average, only 19% lower than baseline and values for QA as well as other parameters determining glomerular filtration were at or near the levels observed before administration of CsA. In another group of rats (N = 6) an identical dose of CsA was given to measure the circulating level of endothelin. In these CsA treated rats, endothelin level (measured by radioimmunoassay) was elevated at 41.7 +/- 14.7 pg/ml, contrasting the value of less than 2 pg/ml uniformly observed in identically instrumented normal rats not given CsA (N = 5). Thus, cyclosporine is a potential inducer for endothelin release and endothelin appears to have a pivotal role in pathophysiology of cyclosporine-induced acute renal vasoconstriction and glomerular dysfunction.