The effects of intracarotidly injected endothelin (ET)-1 (0.01-3 nmol) on the local cerebral blood volume (CBV) in the parietotemporal cortex were examined by the photoelectric method in 17 anesthetized cats. CBV reflects the cumulative dimensions of the cerebral microvessels. Low doses of ET-1 (0.01 and 0.1 nmol) elicited mild but significant reductions in CBV without changes in the systemic arterial blood pressure (SABP). High doses of ET-1 (3 nmol) initially induced marked declines of CBV, which were attributable to the significant falls in SABP. CBV subsequently exhibited significant increases. The CBV increases were not secondary to the accompanying elevations of SABP, since they were unaffected by inhibition of the SABP changes after preinjection of BQ-123 (1 mg/kg), an ET antagonist specific to the ETA receptors. The CBV increases, however, were prevented by continuous administration of NG-mono-methyl-L-arginine (0.35 mg/kg/min), an inhibitor of nitric oxide synthesis, plus BQ-123. We conclude that while low doses of intravascular ET-1 constrict the cerebral microvessels, high doses of ET-1 dilate the cerebral microvessels through the induction of nitric oxide probably in the cerebrovascular endothelium.