The mediators of the hyperdynamic circulation of liver cirrhosis are not well characterized. Substance P is a potent vasodilatory peptide produced by the enteric nervous system and partly cleared by the liver. In this work we have investigated the plasma levels of substance P and their relationship to the hemodynamic, neurohormonal, and renal function changes occurring in patients with cirrhosis. Seven healthy subjects (control group), 7 cirrhotic patients without ascites (group I), and 24 cirrhotic patients with ascites (group II) were studied. Cardiac output (CO), femoral blood flow (FBF), blood volume (BV), femoral arteriovenous difference of oxygen content (Ca-v O2), plasma renin activity (PRA), plasma aldosterone concentration (PAC), and plasma norepinephrine (NE) were determined. Five patients underwent trans-jugular intrahepatic porto-systemic stent shunt (TIPSS) because of refractory ascites. Immunoreactive substance P (irSP) was measured by radioimmunoassay after plasma extraction. irSP was higher in ascitic patients than in healthy controls (P < .01) and directly correlated with PRA, PAC, plasma NE, and Pugh's score and was inversely correlated with urinary sodium excretion, glomerular filtration rate, and Ca-v O2. No differences were observed between portal and peripheral vein irSP concentration. TIPSS placement induced a decrease in portal pressure and an increase in CO but circulating irSP remained unchanged. Our data show that circulating irSP is increased in decompensated cirrhotic patients and may be involved in the pathogenesis of the hemodynamic changes of cirrhosis. Alleviation of portal hypertension did not result in decreased plasma levels of this vasodilatory substance.