Endothelin 1 (ET-1) is a potent vasoconstrictor implicated in the control of blood pressure and renal function. Its effects can be modulated by nitric oxide (NO), which inhibits ET-1 production and action. Recently, we reported that ET-1 production can also be modulated by angiotensin II (AngII) in vivo. To investigate the interactions between NO, ET-1, and AngII in hypertension and renal dysfunction, we assessed immunoreactive ET-1 (ir-ET-1) concentration in plasma and urine as well as in vascular and renal tissues of rats with chronic inhibition of NO synthesis, in the presence and the absence of the AngII type 1 receptor antagonist losartan. Normal (protocols A and B) and uninephrectomized rats (protocol C) received the L-arginine analog N(G)-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester (L-NAME), an inhibitor of NO synthesis, 0.05% (protocol A) or 0.1% (protocols B and C), with or without losartan (20 mg x kg(-1) x day(-1)). After 6 weeks, systolic blood pressure was significantly increased in L-NAME rats compared with the controls (p < 0.01), while serum creatinine and urea, creatinine clearance, and proteinuria were similar to control values. However, ir-ET-1 concentration in plasma and in the thoracic aorta was augmented in animals receiving 0.1% L-NAME (1 < 0.01), while it was unchanged in the mesenteric arterial bed, preglomerular arteries, and glomeruli. In contrast, ir-ET-1 concentration was decreased in the renal papilla (p < 0.05) as well as in the urine of L-NAME rats (p < 0.01). Treatment with losartan significantly attenuated the rise in systolic blood pressure induced by L-NAME (p < 0.01). Losartan also normalized the increased ir-ET-1 concentration in plasma and in the thoracic aorta, but had no effect on tissues with normal or reduced ir-ET-1 levels. These results indicate that chronic inhibition of NO synthase with L-NAME induces hypertension without renal dysfunction. Increased ET-1 production in some blood vessels and elevated circulating ET-1 concentration may contribute to the maintenance of high blood pressure. The reduction of systolic blood pressure by losartan supports a role for AngII in the pathogenesis of this form of hypertension, which may be due, at least in part, to the modulation of ET-1 production.