Polymicrobial sepsis is characterized by an early, hyperdynamic phase followed by a late, hypodynamic phase. Although upregulation of adrenomedullin (ADM), a novel potent vasodilatory peptide, plays an important role in producing cardiovascular responses during the progression of sepsis, it remains unknown whether the clearance of this peptide is altered under such conditions. To determine this, male adult rats were subjected to sepsis by cecal ligation and puncture (CLP) followed by fluid resuscitation. At 5 h (i.e., the hyperdynamic phase of sepsis) or 20 h (the hypodynamic phase) after CLP, the animals were injected with 125I-labeled ADM through the jugular vein. Blood and tissue samples (including the lungs, kidneys, gastrointestinal tract, pancreas, spleen, mesentery, liver, brain, skeletal muscle, heart, and skin) were harvested 30 min after the injection and the radioactivity was determined. The results indicate that there were no significant alterations in tissue [125I]ADM distribution at 5 h after CLP compared to shams. At 20 h after CLP, however, there was a significant decrease in radioactivity in the lungs. In contrast, a significant increase of radioactivity was observed in all other organs except the liver and kidneys. The pulmonary distribution of [125I]ADM was found to be far greater than in any other organs tested, irrespective of the effect of sepsis. In separate groups of animals, injection of [125I]ADM into the left ventricle resulted in a significant decrease in radioactivity in the lungs of both sham and septic animals at 20 h after surgery. These results suggest that the lungs are the primary site of ADM clearance, which is significantly diminished during the late stage of sepsis. The decreased clearance of ADM by the lungs may play an important role in maintaining the sustained levels of plasma ADM under such conditions. Copyright (C) 1999 Elsevier Science B.V.