1. We have examined the expression of endothelin isoforms and their precursors in the human heart using RIA, HPLC, immunocytochemistry and reverse transcriptase—polymerase chain reaction assays.
2. Highly specific RIAs were used to measure the levels of mature endothelin and big endothelin-1 immunoreactivity in extracts of human right ventricle. There was no significant difference between samples from patients with ischaemic heart disease and idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy.
3. HPLC coupled with RIAs allowed the separation and identification of the three mature isoforms of endothelin, big endothelin-1 and the C-terminal fragment of big endothelin-1. In extracts of human endocardial endothelial cells, peaks of immunoreactivity that co-eluted with authentic endothelin-1, big endothelin-1 and C-terminal fragment were found.
4. Intense immunocytochemical staining of mature endothelin immunoreactivity was detected in the cytoplasm of endothelial cells of all regions of the heart tested. Big endothelin-1 immunoreactivity mirrored that of the mature peptide and, in two of three individuals tested, big endothelin-2 immunoreactivity was also detected. No big endothelin-3 immunoreactivity was detected in any of the tissues examined.
5. Reverse transcriptase—polymerase chain reaction assays demonstrated endothelin-1 and endothelin-2 mRNA in all three samples of human left ventricle tested. In two of the individuals, additional bands were also detected with the endothelin-2 primers which corresponded to splice variants. There was no evidence for the expression of endothelin-3 mRNA.
6. These data suggest that endothelin-1 is the predominant isoform of endothelin in the human heart and is probably largely synthesized by the endothelial cells within the heart. If released from the endothelial cells in vivo, this potent cardiotonic peptide may play an important paracrine role in human cardiovascular function.