1. Using wire myography, we have examined the endothelin (ET) receptor subtypes mediating vasoconstriction to ET peptides in human pulmonary resistance arteries (150-200 microns, i.d.). 2. Cumulative concentration-response curves to ET-1, sarafotoxin 6c (SX6c) and ET-3 were constructed in the presence and absence of the selective antagonists FR 139317 (ETA-selective), BMS 182874 (ETA-selective) and BQ-788 (ETB-selective). 3. All agonists induced concentration-dependent contractions. However, the response curves to ET-1 were biphasic in nature. The first component demonstrated a shallow slope up to 1 nM ET-1. Above 1 nM ET-1 the response curve was markedly steeper. Maximum responses to ET-3 and SX6c were the same as those to 1 nM ET-1 and 30% of those to 0.1 microM ET-1. The order of potency, taking 0.3 microM as a maximum concentration was SX6c >> ET-3 > ET-1 (pEC50 values of: 10.75 +/- 0.27, 9.05 +/- 0.19, 8.32 +/- 0.08 respectively). Taking 1 nM ET-1 as a maximum, the EC50 for ET-1 was 10.08 +/- 0.13 and therefore ET-1 was equipotent to ET-3 and SX6c over the first component of the response curve. 4. Responses to ET-1 up to 1 nM were resistant to the effects of the ETA receptor antagonists, FR 139317 and BMS 182874 but were inhibited by the ETB receptor antagonist, BQ-788. Conversely, responses to ET-1 over 1 nM were inhibited by the ETA receptor antagonists, FR 139317 and BMS 182874 but unaffected by the ETB receptor antagonist, BQ-788. 5. The results suggest that at concentrations up to 1 nM, responses to ET-1 are mediated via the ETB receptor, whilst the responses to higher concentrations are mediated by ETA receptors.