Endothelin-1 and cyclic guanosine monophosphate (c-GMP) peripheral vein plasma levels increase during coronary angioplasty, but the reason for this increase has not been elucidated. The purpose of this study was to investigate whether these changes are related to myocardial ischaemia, or to mechanical artery injury induced during the procedure. Thirty-two patients with stable angina pectoris and a single lesion were studied. They were aged 56 +/- 8 and were undergoing balloon angioplasty. Eight arteries were totally occluded and 24 were partially occluded. Blood samples were drawn from a peripheral vein after coronary artery engagement with the guiding catheter (baseline), after the first balloon inflation, immediately after the end of the procedure, and 4 h later. In the total occlusion group endothelin-1 increased by 7% (P ns), whereas in the partial occlusion group it increased by 45% after the procedure (P < 0.001). c-GMP in the partial occlusion group increased by 41% (P < 0.001) after the procedure whereas in the total occlusion group it increased by 5% (P ns). Thus, the increase in endothelin-1 and c-GMP peripheral vein plasma levels after coronary angioplasty is related to myocardial ischaemia rather than to mechanical artery injury.