Endothelin-1 has a wide range of pharmacological effects in various tissues and acts as autocrine/paracrine factor. The potential of ET-1 to function as an autocrine growth factor was evaluated in normal human keratinocytes. Radioligand binding studies showed that 125I-ET-1 bound to a single class of high-affinity-binding sites on the surface of the cells. The dissociation constant was 0.045 nM with receptor numbers of 1700 sites/cell. Treatment with serum caused increases in expression of binding sites (3500 sites/cell), with no change in binding affinity. ET-1 stimulated thymidine incorporation in these cells that expressed ET receptors. An ET antagonist selective for the ETA receptor subtype (BQ 123) inhibited DNA synthesis stimulated by ET-1 and reduced the basal growth rate of unstimulated cells. These data suggest that the ET-1 induced DNA synthesis is mediated by ETA receptor subtype and that endogenously produced ET-1 promotes the autocrine proliferation of keratinocytes.