Previous studies in animal models indicated an autocrine/paracrine action of endothelin-1 (ET-1) in the ovary. We now report evidence on the presence of ET-1 in human ovary during reproductive life. Immunohistochemical and in situ hybridization studies demonstrated a positive signal into cytoplasm of granulosa cells (GC) of follicles at different growth stages. The concentration of ET-1-like immunoreactivity (ET-1-LI) was also measured by a specific RIA in human follicular fluid (FF). FF samples were obtained from women in an in vitro fertilization program undergoing gonadotropin stimulation (group A; n = 24) or no treatment (group B; n = 7). The mean (+/-SD) ET-1-LI FF level in group A (4.85 +/- 2.06 pg/mL) was significantly higher than that in group B (1.29 +/- 0.43 pg/mL; P < 0.01), whereas the corresponding mean plasma levels were not significantly different and were not correlated to respective FF values. Our results indicate for the first time the presence of ET-1 and its messenger ribonucleic acid in the GC of the human ovary. The higher ET-1-LI levels found in the FF from women undergoing gonadotropin treatment suggest a modulation by gonadotropins and/or ovarian steroids of ET-1 production by GC.