The effects of endothelin (ET)-1, ET-2, ET-3 and sarafotoxin S6C on the contractile response in the longitudinal and coronal vectors of the isolated rhesus monkey ciliary muscle were studied. Fresh ciliary muscle strips from young and middleaged rhesus monkeys were mounted in an apparatus capable of monitoring contractile force simultaneously in the two vectors. The responses to the ET compounds were measured and compared to those produced with 1 microM carbachol. ET-1 produced contractions of up to 15% of the near-maximum response to carbachol in both vectors of 66% of ciliary muscle strips studied. In responsive strips, the maximal ET-1 induced contraction was approximately equal in both vectors, but the longitudinal vector was approximately 5-fold more sensitive than the circular. All ciliary muscle strips responded reproducibly to carbachol. None of the other ET compounds tested had any effect, suggesting that the ETA receptor may predominate in rhesus monkey ciliary muscle. Because ET-1 induces only weak and interindividually variable contraction in isolated rhesus monkey ciliary muscle strips, ET-1's enhancement of outflow facility with only minimal induction of accommodation in the living monkey may be due to effects directly on the trabecular meshwork. However, the 5-fold greater potency of ET-1 in the longitudinal compared to the circular contractile vector may indicate that selective contraction of the longitudinal portion of the ciliary muscle with consequent deformation of the trabecular meshwork but not the lens is also involved.