The vasoconstrictor and mitogenic peptide endothelin-1 (ET-1) is believed to play a part in fibrosis and collagen production. We examined expression of ET-1 in lung tissue from 52 patients with interstitial lung fibrosis, of whom 45 had cryptogenic fibrosing alveolitis (CFA), 10 had CFA and concomitant pulmonary hypertension, and 7 had non-specific focal fibrosis. 17 normal unused donor lungs were studied as controls. Immunohistochemistry and in-situ hybridisation were done with polyclonal antisera to ET-1 and its precursor big ET-1, and complementary RNA probes for preproET-1. Normal lung tissue and that from patients with focal fibrosis expressed very little ET-1. By contrast, there was striking expression of ET-1 in lung tissue from patients with CFA. Immunostains for ET-1 and big ET-1 and expression of ET-1 mRNA were most prominent in airway epithelium and type II pneumocytes, particularly those lining areas of young granulation tissue. ET-1-like immunoreactivity and mRNA were also present in pulmonary vascular endothelial cells, particularly in specimens from patients with pulmonary hypertension. In all patients, there was a significant correlation between ET-1-like immunoreactivity and histological parameters of disease activity (r = 0.78, 95% CI 0.65-0.87, p < 0.001). These findings suggest a possible role for cell-specific expression of ET-1 in the pathogenesis of CFA and associated pulmonary hypertension.