Hepatic stellate cells are similar to tissue pericytes and have been shown to be contractile. In this study, we examined the effects of known mediators of stellate cell contraction on portal pressure in rat livers after carbon tetrachloride induced injury (including cirrhosis) and investigated the contractility of stellate cells as a function of liver injury. Sarafotoxin S6C, an endothelin B (ETB) receptor agonist, had minor effects on portal pressure when perfused into normal livers at concentrations known to elicit stellate cell contraction (2 nmol/L). In contrast, both endothelin-1 (2 nmol/L) and angiotensin II (8.6 nmol/L) caused a rapid and pronounced rise in portal pressure. The effects of sarafotoxin S6C (a potent stellate cell contractile agonist) on portal pressure were greater in cirrhotic than normal liver, whereas those of angiotensin II were unchanged after liver injury. Endothelin-1 and sarafotoxin S6C induced contractility of stellate cells increased in proportion to the degree of liver injury. Contractility was greatest for stellate cells isolated from cirrhotic livers, a population of cells that displayed the most activated phenotype, as measured by immunoblot of smooth muscle alpha actin. Autoradiography of cirrhotic livers after perfusion with 125I-endothelin-1 revealed binding to cells in both sinusoidal spaces and collagenous fibrotic bands, consistent with known locations of stellate cells. Finally, the mixed endothelin-A (ETA) and ETB receptor antagonist, bosentan, reduced portal pressure in portal hypertensive animals, consistent with its inhibitory effect on stellate cell contraction. We conclude that stellate cell contractility increases with progressive liver injury and is proportional to the degree of stellate cell activation, becoming most prominent in the cirrhotic liver. Endothelin-stimulated contraction of stellate cells in cirrhotic liver may contribute to increased intrahepatic resistance and portal pressure.