Background: Current information concerning endothelin in cirrhosis is conflicting. Plasma endothelin concentration has been found to be increased in some studies and normal or reduced in others. The present study was aimed to investigate the plasma levels of endothelin in cirrhosis and to assess whether it is involved in the renal and hemodynamic disturbances and neurohumoral changes present in this condition.
Methods: Renal function, plasma renin activity, and plasma concentration of aldosterone, norepinephrine, antidiuretic hormone, atrial natriuretic factor, and endothelin were measured in 9 healthy subjects, 7 compensated cirrhotics, and 25 cirrhotics with ascites (10 with functional renal failure).
Results: Cirrhotics with ascites with and without functional renal failure showed higher endothelin levels (15.6 +/- 6.4 and 15.7 +/- 4.6 pg/mL, respectively; mean +/- SD) than compensated cirrhotics (6.4 +/- 1.8 pg/mL) and healthy subjects (3.4 +/- 1.0 pg/mL) (analysis of variance, F = 21.84; P < 0.001). These patients also showed higher plasma levels of renin, aldosterone, norepinephrine, antidiuretic hormone, and atrial natriuretic factor, although plasma endothelin levels only correlated significantly with plasma atrial natriuretic factor (r = 0.73, P < 0.001) and antidiuretic hormone concentrations (r = 0.59, P < 0.001). In 7 additional nonazotemic cirrhotics with ascites, plasma renin activity and the plasma concentration of aldosterone and endothelin were measured before and 24 hours after the intravenous administration of a saline solution of human serum albumin. Volume expansion markedly suppressed renin and aldosterone but not endothelin (21.03 +/- 7.34 vs. 23.97 +/- 14.29 pg/mL).
Conclusions: Circulating plasma levels of endothelin are elevated in cirrhosis with ascites and do not decrease following plasma volume expansion.