To determine the clinical significance of plasma endothelin-1 in chronic liver disease, these levels were measured by radioimmunoassay. The plasma endothelin-1 levels in patients with cirrhosis (N = 16) (2.04 +/- 0.25 pg/ml) and patients with hepatocellular carcinoma (N = 22) (2.23 +/- 0.17 pg/ml) increased significantly compared with controls (N = 16) (1.17 +/- 0.17 pg/ml) and patients with chronic hepatitis (N = 11) (1.09 +/- 0.19 pg/ml) (P < 0.01). The presence of ascites rather than tumor volume was associated with a significant elevation of endothelin-1. Endothelin-1 showed significant negative correlations with parameters of hepatic function, including indocyanine green clearance, serum albumin, and prothrombin time. Although endothelin-1 was not correlated with plasma renin activity and plasma endotoxin, it demonstrated a significant positive correlation with the plasma level of atrial natriuretic peptide (r = 0.42, P < 0.01). These findings demonstrate that plasma endothelin-1 increased in proportion to the severity of liver damage and may be causally related with the derangement of systemic/renal hemodynamics and fluid and electrolyte homeostasis seen in advanced liver disease.