Endothelin-1, unlike the selective endothelin ETB receptor agonist sarafotoxin S6c, causes nociception in the rat when injected intraarticularly into the naive knee-joint. By using selective antagonists, the present study further characterizes the receptors underlying the articular nociceptive actions of endothelin-1, as well as the possible contribution of endogenous endothelins towards nociception induced by carrageenan or E. coli lipopolysaccharide (LPS) in this tissue. Nociception was evaluated by placing the animal for 1 min each hour on a revolving (3 rpm) cylinder and measuring the increase in time the hindpaw of the limb affected by the intra-articular (i.a.) injection of the nociceptive agent, failed to touch its metallic surface (i.e. paw elevation time, PET). In naive joints, endothelin-1 (120 pmol) increased the area under the PET curve (AUC 0-6 h, in arbitrary units) from 61+/-3 (control) to 156+/-12. This nociceptive effect was reduced by prior intravenous (i.v.) injection of the mixed ET(A)/ET(B)receptor antagonist bosentan (by 54 and 73% with 10 and 30 mg/kg) or i.a. administration of the selective ETA receptor antagonist BQ-123 (cyclo [D-Asp-Pro-D-Val-Leu]; by approximately/= 45% with 10 or 30 nmol), but was unaffected by the selective ET(B) receptor antagonist BQ-788 (N-cis-2,6-dimethyl-piperidinocarbonyl-L-gamma-methoxycarbonyl- tryptophanil-D-norleucine; 10 nmol). Prior joint challenge with carrageenan (300 microg) 72 h beforehand (i.e. priming) rendered the joint more sensitive to nociception induced by either endothelin-1 or sarafotoxin S6c (15, 30 and 60 pmol). Responses elicited by endothelin (30 pmol) in the primed joint were sensitive to inhibition by either BQ-123 or BQ-788 (each causing approximately/= 80% inhibition at 10 nmol). Priming also enhanced PET responses to carrageenan itself and to LPS (1 microg) markedly and persistently, increasing the area under the curve (AUC 0-12 h, in arbitrary units) from 241+/-19 to 409+/-50 and from 312+/-40 to 466+/-25, respectively (P < 0.05), without changing that measured following vehicle injection (from 121+/-3 to 117+/-4). Bosentan (up to 30 mg/kg, i.v.) failed to modify nociception caused by carrageenan or LPS in naive joints, by carrageenan in the primed joint, or control PET responses. LPS-induced nociception in the primed joint, however, was inhibited by 52 to 56% by bosentan (3 or 10 mg/kg) or 59% by local injection of the selective endothelin ET(B) receptor antagonist BQ-788 (10 nmol, i.a.), but was unaffected by the selective endothelin ETA receptor antagonist BQ-123. Thus, nociception induced by endothelin-1 in the naive joint is mediated largely via endothelin ETA receptors, whereas both ET(A)and ET(B) receptors contribute to its action in the carrageenan-primed joint. Furthermore, LPS-induced nociception in the primed joint is mediated to a large extent via endothelin release and activation of ET(B) receptors within the joint itself. These findings may be relevant to the etiology of pain underlying chronic arthritic disease in humans.