Hypertension is a major complication of rHuEPO therapy in hemodialysis (HD) patients. We have previously reported that patients receiving rHuEPO intravenously (i.v.) had higher mean arterial pressure (MAP) and plasma endothelin-1 (ET-1) levels than those in which the hormone was administered subcutaneously (s.c.). To test whether the increased serum ET-1 levels associated with i.v. rHuEPO administration are the result of a direct effect of the hormone on ET-1 release by the endothelial cells (EC), we examined the effects of rHuEPO in vitro. Bovine pulmonary artery endothelial cells (BPAEC) were exposed to doses of rHuEPO of 0.8; 1.6; 3.3 and 6.6 U/ml. A 24 hour-time course showed maximal ET-1 production at 12 hours for all the doses tested. A significant increase in cell proliferation over controls was observed at 24 hours, for all rHuEPO doses, and no correlation was found between ET-1 values and cell proliferation. Inhibition of protein synthesis by cycloheximide (10 micrograms/ml) abolished the stimulation of ET-1 release by rHuEPO. Thrombin (4 U/ml) and angiotensin II (10(-7) M), two potent stimulators of ET-1 release, had additive effects to those of rHuEPO. Specific thrombin and angiotensin II antagonists blocked these additive effects, reducing ET-1 release to the level of rHuEPO stimulation alone. In summary, rHuEPO stimulates vascular EC in culture to increase ET-1 release through an increase in synthesis and in a time dependent fashion. The routes of stimulation seem to differ from other known ET-1 secretogoges. Our data also confirm a significant mitogenic effect of rHuEPO on the endothelial cell.