The purpose of this study was to evaluate the role of endothelin-1 in modulating hepatic microcirculation and liver damage. Rats were infused with endothelin-1 at doses ranging from 30 to 1,000 pmol/kg over 1 min through an indwelling cannula placed in the portal vein. In control rats, saline solution was infused at the same rate. Alterations in hepatic microcirculation were measured with an in vivo microscopy system. Serum lactate dehydrogenase activity, an indicator of hepatic damage, was measured 1 hr after endothelin-1 infusion. Immediately after infusion of endothelin-1, we noted a rapid increase in portal pressure, which remained increased for up to 30 min after endothelin-1 infusion. In contrast, systemic blood pressure remained unchanged, even at 1,000 pmol/kg of endothelin-1. Sinusoidal width was reduced and sinusoidal erythrocyte velocity was diminished in a dose-dependent manner. Oxygen saturation of blood in sinusoids was decreased in a dose-dependent manner, reaching values around 40% of control with 1,000 pmol/kg endothelin-1. The degree of decrease in oxygen saturation of blood in sinusoids had an excellent correlation with the calculated blood flow in the liver tissue. Serum lactate dehydrogenase levels were three to four times control values when endothelin-1 was administered at 1,000 pmol/kg. Thus endothelin-1 decreased hepatic tissue oxygenation associated with sinusoidal vasoconstriction. At high concentrations of endothelin-1, this decrease results in hepatocellular damage.