Adrenomedullin (AM) is a potent vasodilator that plays a major role in the cardiovascular response during the progression of sepsis. Although pulmonary clearance of AM (i.e., the primary site of AM clearance) is reduced during the late, hypodynamic stage of sepsis, the role of AM receptors under such conditions remains unclear. This study was carried out to test the hypothesis that saturation of AM receptors is responsible for the decreased clearance of AM in the lungs during sepsis. Polymicrobial sepsis was induced in male adult rats by cecal ligation and puncture (CLP). At 20 h after CLP (i.e., the late phase), 125I-labeled rat AM was administered through the jugular vein, both with (+) and without (-) pre-injection of the human AM fragment AM22-52 (an AM receptor antagonist). Pulmonary tissue samples were harvested after 30 min and the radioactivity was determined. In addition, lung levels of AM were determined at 5 and 20 h after CLP by radioimmunoassay. Alterations in gene expression of the recently identified AM receptor subunits calcitonin receptor-like receptor (CRLR) and receptor activity modifying protein-2 and -3 (RAMP-2 and -3) were assessed in the lungs by reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) at 5 and 20 h after CLP. The results indicate that there was a significant decrease in pulmonary [125I]AM clearance at 20 h in -AM22-52 CLP animals. Lung clearance in +AM22-52 sham animals was significantly lower than in -AM22-52 sham animals and was not statistically different from the -AM22-52 CLP group. There was no statistical difference between +AM22-52 and -AM22-52 CLP groups. However, there was a significant increase in lung AM levels at 20 but not 5 h after CLP. In addition, RAMP-3 expression was significantly upregulated at 5 but not 20 h after CLP. There were no alterations in the expression of CRLR or RAMP-2 at either time point. These results suggest that pulmonary AM receptors become saturated as more AM enters the bloodstream, thereby reducing the ability of the lungs to clear this peptide during late sepsis. Early upregulation of RAMP-3 may be a compensatory mechanism to help clear the upregulated AM from the bloodstream. The lack of upregulation of RAMP-3 during late sepsis could also contribute to the decreased clearance observed during this phase. © 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.