Endothelin-1(ET-1) may be involved in the upregulation of cerebroarterial resistance under pathologic conditions, most notably in the development of vasospasm after subarachnoid hemorrhage. Therefore, blocking the contractile action of ET-1 by receptor antagonists may prove to be a new and worthwhile approach. However, decreasing synthesis and release of ET-1 by blocking the endothelin-converting enzyme (ECE) activity may also prove worthwhile. In this study we have therefore investigated the effect of several putative ECE inhibitors in isolated rat basilar artery by measuring isometric contraction after application of big ET-1, the precursor peptide which is not vasoactive in itself. In the presence of phosphoramidon (10−4M in segments with an intact endothelium or 5 × 10−4M in de-endothelialized segments), there was only a small shift to the right of the concentration-effect curve for big ET-1. Similarly, 10−3M thiorphan (a selective inhibitor of the neutral endopeptidase) did not affect big ET-1-induced contraction, both alone and in combination with phosphoramidon (10−3M). When the big ET-1 analogue [22Phe]big ET-1[19-37] was applied, an increase in resting tension occurred irrespective of whether or not the endothelium was present. Furthermore, in the presence of 10−5M [22Phe]big ET-1[19-37], contraction induced by big ET-1 was not affected in de-endothelialized segments but rather was enhanced in endothelium-intact segments. These results suggest the presence of functional ECE activity in the rat basilar artery wall. However, such activity could not be markedly inhibited with different putative enzyme inhibitors. Therefore, the chemical nature of the cerebroarterial ECE activity must be further elucidated before rational development of efficient ECE inhibitors for treatment of cerebral vasospasm becomes possible.