Although circulating levels of adrenomedullin (ADM), a newly reported vasodilatory peptide with 52 amino acid residues in the human and 50 amino acid residues in the rat, are elevated during the early and late stages of sepsis, ADM levels in cardiovascular tissues and its precise localization remain to be determined. To study this, rats were subjected to sepsis by cecal ligation and puncture (CLP), followed by administration of 3 ml/100 g b.wt. normal saline to these and sham-operated animals. The heart and thoracic aorta were harvested at 5 h (i.e. the early stage of sepsis) and 20 h (late sepsis) after CLP. Tissue levels of ADM were determined by radioimmunoassay. The localization of ADM in the left ventricle and thoracic aorta was examined by using immunohistochemistry and electron microscopy techniques. The results indicated that ADM levels in the heart and thoracic aorta increased significantly at 5 h after CLP and remained elevated at 20 h after the onset of sepsis. Immunohistochemistry findings showed that ADM immunoreaction products were localized in the cytoplasm of the cardiac myocytes and aortic endothelial cells. Using electron microscopy, ADM immunoreaction products were found in the cytoplasmic matrixes. The immunostainings were also associated with the outer membranes of mitochondria and vesicles of the myocytes as well as vascular endothelial cells. It appears that the cardiovascular tissues, among other organ systems, contribute to the increased levels of plasma ADM under those conditions. Since ADM is localized in different cell populations in the heart and the large blood vessel (i.e. myocytes versus vascular endothelial cells), this peptide may play a differential role in regulating cardiac and vascular functions during sepsis as an autocrine and/or paracrine mediator. Copyright (C) 1999 Elsevier Science B.V.