The aim was to investigate circulating levels of immunoreactive endothelin (ir-ET) in atherosclerotic renovascular hypertension (RVH), and to assess the role of the kidneys in its overall plasma concentration. We studied 16 hypertensive patients with renal artery stenosis evidenced by angiography and admitted to hospital for the diagnostic evaluation of RVH by renal vein plasma renin activity (PRA) determinations. The right femoral vein was catheter-ized to simultaneously measure PRA and ir-ET in both renal veins and inferior vena cava below the origin of the renal veins. RVH was present in 9 patients as indicated by diagnostic PRA renal vein ratios and the remaining 7 patients were considered to have essential hypertension (EH). Patients with RVH showed a marked increase in systemic plasma ir-ET concentration (10.3 ± 0.9 pg/ml) as compared to hypertensives without RVH (6.2 ± 0.6 pg/ml, p < 0.005). Despite a significant increase of PRA in the vein of the ischemic (IK) versus the contralateral (CK) kidney in patients with RVH, no significant differences in ir-ET concentration were observed between both kidneys. These results indicate that patients with RVH have increased circulating levels of ir-ET. However, the higher systemic plasma ir-ET do not arise from the renal circulation, since plasma ir-ET is significantly higher in systemic circulation than in renal veins.