Endothelin (endothelin)-1 may in important role in the control of pulmonary arterial tone, part of its action being due to a putative ability to regulate membrane ion channel activity. Consequently, we have examined its effects on membrane currents in pulmonary arterial myocytes by using the patchclamp recording technique. Endothelin-1 (0.1-50 nM) activated an oscillatory inward current and caused a brief enhancement, followed by inhibition of the outward K+ current. Pharmacological and anion substitution experiments revealed that the oscillations of inward current were due to ET(A) receptor stimulation and subsequent activation of Ca(+2)-activated Cl- channels (EC50 > or = 16 nM). Enhancement of K+ current was inhibited by FR139317 (an ET(A) receptor antagonist) and by buffering intracellular Ca+2, which suggests that ET(A) receptor stimulation also activates Ca(+2)-activated K+ channels. Inhibition of K+ current (IC50 approximately 0.5 nM) by endothelin-1 was not dependent on phosphorylation or intracellular Ca+2 and was unaffected by FR139317 but was mimicked by ET(B) receptor agonists. It appears, therefore, that ET(A) and ET(B) receptors in pulmonary arterial myocytes are differentially coupled to Cl- and K+ channels. Modulation of these channels by endothelin-1 may prove to play an important role in regulating pulmonary arterial smooth muscle tone under both physiological and pathological conditions.