Endothelin-1 (ET-1) is found in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid in patients following lung transplantation. ET-1 causes contraction of isolated pulmonary vessels and bronchi and stimulates proliferation of smooth muscle cells in culture. Therefore, ET-1 could contribute to the smooth muscle hyperplasia and stromal proliferation seen in chronic rejection of lung allografts. Experiments were designed to determine whether (1) ET-1 stimulates proliferation of pulmonary tissue, (2) proliferation is increased in rejecting allotransplanted lungs, (3) endothelin-A receptors mediate the proliferative response, and (4) ET-1 is produced by activated infiltrating immunocompetent cells. Lung organ cultures were prepared from unoperated dogs and dogs with rejecting single lung allografts. Incubation of organ cultures from unoperated dogs with ET-1 (10-9 to 10-7 M) increased positive staining for proliferation cell nuclear antigen (PCNA) in lung parenchyma. PCNA staining was not decreased by the endothelin-A antagonist BQ123 (10-6 M). In addition, immunostaining for endothelin-B receptors was present in sections of unoperated but not rejecting lungs. PCNA staining in lung cultures from rejecting allotransplanted dogs was significantly greater than that from unoperated dogs. Positive immunohistochemical staining for ET-1 was found in mononuclear cells infiltrating rejecting transplanted lungs. In conclusion, exogenous ET-1 is mitogenic in lung organ cultures through receptors other than endothelin-A. Proliferation in rejecting transplanted lungs is increased compared with unoperated lungs. Mononuclear cells may be a source of endothelin-1 in the rejecting lung. ET-1, therefore could, in synergism with other cytokines, contribute to acute and chronic pathological changes seen in pulmonary rejection.