Increased plasma endothelin-1 (ET-1) levels in rats after alcohol administration and increased endothelin receptor expression in the pancreas in chronic alcoholic pancreatitis have led to the hypothesis that ET-1 may play a critical role in the pathogenesis of ethanol-induced pancreatic injury through impairment of perfusion. To further test the hypothesis that ET-1 mediates an alcohol-induced reduction of pancreatic perfusion, the present study compares the effect of intravenous alcohol and ET-1 on pancreatic capillary blood flow (PCBF) and investigates whether endothelin receptor blockade prevents the alcohol-induced reduction in PCBF. Anesthetized rats were randomly assigned to receive one of the following: a 1-hour infusion of 2 g/kg alcohol or the volume equivalent of saline solution plus ET-1 (1.25 microgram/kg), a specific endothelin-A receptor antagonist (50 mg/kg), or saline solution (volume equivalent). The pancreas was exposed for intravital microscopy; PCBF was determined at the same location before the test solutions were given, after the infusion, and 1 hour thereafter. Alcohol and ET-1 significantly decreased PCBF from 2.0 nl/min/cap to 1.7 nl/min/cap. The reduction in PCBF was even more pronounced when alcohol and ET-1 were combined (1.5 nl/min/cap), whereas the ET receptor antagonist increased PCBF in saline-treated rats to 2.2 nl/min cap and maintained stable PCBF in alcohol-treated animals. The observation that PCBF is reduced by both alcohol and ET-1 and that the alcohol-induced reduction of PCBF can be aggravated by ET-1 and prevented by a specific endothelin-1 antagonist supports the hypothesis that ET-1 is the mediator of the alcohol-associated reduction of pancreatic perfusion.