The administration of Cyclosporin-A (CyA) to animals and humans may induce an arteriolar damage. It has also been reported that CyA in some instances may cause an hemolytic uremic-like syndrome. This is a syndrome of vascular damage with thrombotic occlusions of the microcirculation. Endothelial injury is considered the first event in the pathogenetic cascade leading to hemolytic-uremic syndrome. We have used bovine aortic endothelial cells in culture to address the issue of CyA-induced arteriolar damage. Exposure of endothelial cells to different concentrations of CyA induced a time- and dose-dependent cell injury in vitro. The damage induced by CyA was characterized by an early cell detachment from culture substrate followed by cell lysis as documented by the increase in lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) and 51Cr release. Both detachment and lysis were negligible after short-term incubation of 1 microM CyA with endothelial cells. One micromolar CyA only induced lysis if incubations were prolonged above 6 hours. Ten and 50 microM CyA both induced marked endothelial cell detachment and lysis; lysis started 3 hours after incubation of endothelial cells with CyA and was maximal at the end of 24 hours incubation. CyA-induced injury was associated with dose- and time-dependent increase in prostacyclin and thromboxane A2 release by endothelial cells exposed to CyA independently from the concentrations of CyA used. CyA-induced generation of prostacyclin and thromboxane A2 was inhibited when the incubations were performed in the presence of aspirin (500 microM). These studies indicate that CyA exerts a direct cytotoxic effect on endothelial cells and might help in understanding the pathogenesis of CyA-induced vascular damage.