Specific receptor antagonists were used to examine the role of endothelin-1 (ET-1) in the erectile response of the rat. In these studies, intact rats were cannulated to permit the continuous recording of mean arterial pressure (MAP) and intracavernosal pressure (CCP). Erection was induced by electrical stimulation of the autonomic ganglion, which regulates blood flow to the penis. The animals were subjected to intracavernosal injection with vehicle only (Cont) or with an antagonist to the endothelin-A receptor (ET(A)) or to the endothelin-B receptor (ET(B)). Blockade of the ET(A) or the ET(B) had no effect on the erectile response (CCP/MAP) during maximal ganglionic stimulation. When ET-1 was injected into Cont rats, there was a marked vasoconstriction with a sharp rise in MAP and a decline in CCP as the cavernosal arterioles constricted and limited inflow. The injection of the ET(A) antagonist prevented the vasoconstriction after ET-1 injection into Cont rats, whereas blockade of the ET(B) had no effect on the vasoconstrictive effect to ET-1. Similar results were obtained during submaximal ganglionic stimulation. With minimal levels of ganglionic stimulation, ET-1 injection led to a moderated degree of vasodilation in the presence of the ET(A) antagonist. The ET(B) antagonist failed to alter the CCP response during minimal stimulation, but it did have a marked effect on the MAP response to ET-1 injection. The results of these studies confirm that cavernosal tissue of the rat penis is highly responsive to ET-1. However, the failure of the ET-1 antagonists to affect penile erection in response to ganglionic stimulation reflects a minimal role of ET-1 in the erectile response in the rat.