We attempted to determine whether or not endothelin (ET) plays a physiological role in cerebral vasospasm. ET (10(-11) - 3 x 10(-8) M) induced a concentration-dependent contraction in isolated canine basilar arteries. Intracisternal injection of 10 to 1,000 pmol ET into dogs induced a dose-dependent decrease in the basilar artery diameter, as measured angiographically on the 1st day. On the 3rd day after the injection of ET (10 pmol), the diameter of the basilar artery had diminished to 76% of the value seen in the control. There were no effects on blood pressure or heart rate. Thus, ET seems to be a potent constrictor of cerebral arteries in vivo, and these effects are long-lasting.