The possible production and role of endothelin in the gastrointestinal tract was investigated in rats by radioimmunoassay, Northern-blot hybridization, receptor assay using membrane preparations, and pharmacological study using gut strips. Endothelinlike immunoreactivity was detected in all regions (from stomach to colon) of the rat gastrointestinal tract (13-48 fmol/g wet tissue) including the mucosal layer of the ileum and colon (8.4 ± 2.0 fmol/g wet tissue and 18.4 ± 2.1 fmol/g wet tissue, respectively, mean ± SEM; n = 5). Fast protein liquid chromatographic analysis of the endothelinlike immunoreactivity in jejunum, ileum, colon, and colon mucosa extracts showed peaks in the positions of endothelin-1 and endothelin-3. The presence of endothelin-1 messenger RNA was demonstrated by Northern-blot hybridization in the whole colon and pooled ileal and colonic mucosa, but not in the whole jejunum. Specific binding in the rat gastrointestinal tract was particularly high in the fundus of stomach, jejunum, ileum, and colon. In the ileum, many binding sites were found in the circular and longitudinal muscle layers, but few in the mucosal layer. Endothelin-1 and endothelin-3 caused contraction of rat stomach strips, rat colon, and guinea pig ileum. These findings indicate that endothelin is present in the rat gastrointestinal tract, perhaps produced by both vascular endothelial cells and mucosal epithelial cells, and can cause contraction of gastrointestinal smooth muscle. Thus, endothelin may have a physiological role in the control of gastrointestinal function.
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