This study was aimed to evaluate the source of endothelin-1 (ET-1) in cirrhotic patients. ET-1 is implicated in the pathogenesis of portal hypertension. However, the mechanism and source for increased plasma ET-1 in cirrhotic patients are still obscure. Plasma ET-1 levels in systemic (SV), superior mesenteric (SMV), and splenic venous (SPV) blood were measured in 23 patients with cirrhosis and 8 controls with normal liver. Fourteen removed spleens were immunohistochemically studied for ET-1, CD34, CD68, and CD20. In situ hybridization was done to localize ET-1 messenger RNA (mRNA). In cirrhosis, ET-1 levels in both SMV and SPV were higher than in SV. ET-1 in SV and SPV were significantly higher in cirrhotic patients than in control patients. Three groups of cells in the spleen expressed both protein and mRNA of ET-1: endothelial cells in the sinus, which were also stained for CD34; cells in the germinal center; and cells in the marginal zone of lymphoid sheaths and follicles, which were also stained for CD20 but not for CD34 and CD68. The ET-1 concentration released from the spleen was in parallel with the grade of ET-1 expression in the spleen. The spleen is one of the major sites of ET-1 release in cirrhotic patients. Endothelial cells of the splenic sinus and possibly B lymphocytes in the germinal center and marginal zone of lymphoid sheaths and follicles seem to be the sites of ET-1 production in the spleen.