Endothelial dysfunction associated with atherosclerosis has been attributed to alterations in the L-arginine-nitric oxide (NO)-cGMP pathway or to an excess of endothelin-1 (ET-1). The 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl coenzyme A reductase inhibitors (statins) have been shown to ameliorate endothelial function. However, the physiological basis of this observation is largely unknown. We investigated the effects of Atorvastatin and Simvastatin on the pre-proET-1 mRNA expression and ET-1 synthesis and on the endothelial NO synthase (eNOS) transcript and protein levels in bovine aortic endothelial cells. These agents inhibited pre-proET-1 mRNA expression in a concentration- and time-dependent fashion (60-70% maximum inhibition) and reduced immunoreactive ET-1 levels (25-50%). This inhibitory effect was maintained in the presence of oxidized LDL (1-50 microg/ml). No significant modification of pre-proET-1 mRNA half-life was observed. In addition, mevalonate, but not cholesterol, reversed the statin-mediated decrease of pre-proET-1 mRNA levels. eNOS mRNA expression was reduced by oxidized LDL in a dose-dependent fashion (up to 57% inhibition), whereas native LDL had no effect. Statins were able to prevent the inhibitory action exerted by oxidized LDL on eNOS mRNA and protein levels. Hence, these drugs might influence vascular tone by modulating the expression of endothelial vasoactive factors.