Nitric oxide synthase is overexpressed in the portal hypertensive (PHT) esophagus, suggesting that expression of other vasoactive mediatora could also be affected. Therefore, in the present study we determined the expression of endothelin-1 (ET-1) and endothelin receptors, which could contribute to the regulation of the vascular tone in PHT esophagus. In esophageal specimens of PHT and sham operated rats, expression of ET-1 and its receptors A and B (ET(A)R and ET(B)R) mRNAs was studied by reverse transcription-polymerase chain reactions. ET-1 protein expression was assessed by immunostaining and enzyme immunoassay. In PHT esophagus, expression of ET-1, ET(A)R and ET(B)R mRNAs was significantly increased by 2.2-, 2.5- and 1.5-fold, respectively, compared with sham operated. The ET-1 protein was significantly increased by 2.2-fold vs. controls as measured by enzyme immunoassay. ET-1 protein was predominantly localized to endothelia of submucosal veins. Thus, portal hypertension induces over-expression of ET-1 in endothelia of esophageal submucosal vessels. Since ET-1 and its receptors could promote vascular proliferation and induce mucosal damage, the overexpressed ET-1 may play an important role in the development and rupture of esophageal varices in portal hypertension.