Endothelin, a recently discovered peptide produced by endothelial cells, contracts vascular strips in vitro with greater potency than any previously known vasoconstrictor. Infusions of pharmacologic doses of endothelin in vivo result in a prolonged pressor response and a preferential impairment of renal hemodynamic and excretory functions. Endothelin also directly stimulates the release of aldosterone from the adrenal gland and inhibits renin release in vitro. A highly sensitive and specific radioimmunoassay has confirmed that endothelin circulates in human plasma, and increased plasma endothelin levels have been associated with various cardiovascular disease states. This review summarizes the current knowledge about the molecular biologic features and physiologic actions of endothelin and also explores the role of endothelin, through its local and systemic function, as a regulator of vascular tone in normal and pathophysiologic states.
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