Endothelial cells were cultured from various different human vessels, including aortas, pulmonary, ovarian, and umbilical arteries, and pulmonary, ovarian, and umbilical veins. The cultured cells were identified as endothelial cells by the presence of Factor VIII antigen and antiotensin I converting enzyme (kininase II). They retained these markers for at least five passages in culture, and some cells had them for seven passages or more. Endothelial cells from the various vessels were compared with respect to their ability to metabolize angiotensins I and II and bradykinin. Cells from arteries had three to five times the angiotensin I converting enzyme activity as cells from veins. The activity of angiotensinase A (aspartyl aminopeptidase) had a similar distribution, and cells from arteries were consistently more active than cells from veins. Cultures of endothelial cells from pulmonary and umbilical vessels formed prostacyclin in response to mechanical stimulation. Media from cell monolayers that were subjected to a change of medium and gentle agitation inhibited aggregation of human platelets. This inhibitory activity was generated within 2-5 min, and it was not formed by cells that were treated with indomethacin or tranylcypromine. Addition of prostaglandin (PG)H(2) to indomethacin-treated cells restored the ability to form the inhibitor, but cells treated with tranylcypromine were not responsive to PGH(2). In experiments where [(14)C]arachidonic acid was added to the cells before stimulation, the major metabolite identified by thin-layer chromatography was 6-keto PGF(1alpha). Thus, it appears that pulmonary endothelial cells, as well as umbilical cord cells, can form prostacyclin. In experiments comparing the ability of arterial and venous cells to form prostacyclin, arterial cells were more active than venous cells. These studies of cells from various human vessels suggest that the vascular origin of cultured endothelial cells determines how they metabolize vasoactive peptides and form prostacyclin.