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Renal failure is an established risk factor for impaired patient outcome after orthotopic liver transplantation (OLT). As the endothelin pathway is known to be involved in the development of acute renal failure (ARF), we designed a study to clarify its role in ARF following OLT. Twenty consecutive patients with intact kidney function scheduled for their first OLT were prospectively studied. Plasma big endothelin-1 (ET-1) levels were measured before surgery, after graft reperfusion, and on the first and second postoperative day. According to postoperative glomerular filtration rate (GFR), patients were assigned to the acute renal dysfunction group (ARDF) and the non-ARDF group. Each patient's GFR was estimated according to the 4-variable formula used in the modification of diet in renal disease before surgery, daily within the first postoperative week, and at 1, 3, 12, and 24 months after surgery. Postoperative mean big ET-1 levels correlated significantly with the maximum percent decrease of GFR within 3 days after OLT (P< 0.01). The proportion of patients who developed ARDF was significantly correlated to mean postoperative big ET-1 quartiles (P< 0.01). In the ARDF group, the percent decrease of GFR within 24 months was significantly higher (P< 0.05) as compared to the non-ARDF group. In conclusion, patients who develop ARDF immediately after OLT do not fully recover to baseline regarding long-term kidney function. Short-term GFR was significantly correlated with postoperative big ET-1 plasma levels, suggesting renal dysfunction is mediated by the activated endothelin system.