Although the hemodynamic response to polymicrobial sepsis is characterized by an early, hyperdynamic phase followed by a late, hypodynamic phase, the factors responsible for producing the transition from the hyperdynamic to the hypodynamic stage are not fully understood. The failure to recognize or prevent this transition may lead to progressive deteriorations in cell and organ functions and ultimately result in multiple organ failure. Despite the fact that several vasoactive mediators (i.e., nitric oxide, prostacyclin, calcitonin gene-related peptide) have been implicated in producing cardiovascular alterations during sepsis, recent studies have indicated that adrenomedullin (AM), a novel vasodilatory peptide, plays an important role in initiating the hyperdynamic response during the early stage of polymicrobial sepsis. In addition, the reduced vascular responsiveness appears to be responsible for producing the transition from the early, hyperdynamic phase to the late, hypodynamic phase of sepsis. Moreover, modulation of AM vascular responsiveness reduces sepsis-induced mortality. In this review the physiological effects of AM, mechanisms of its action, and regulation of its production under various pathophysiological conditions will be discussed. Furthermore, the role of AM in producing the biphasic hemodynamic responses observed during polymicrobial sepsis and approaches for pharmacologically modulating vascular responsiveness and hemodynamic stability under such conditions will be described. © 2000 Academic Press.