The aim of this study was to evaluate changes in intestinal microcirculation during necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) and to examine the effect of endothelin (ET)-1 on the intestinal microcirculation. Prematurely born rats were either hand-fed formula (NEC) or dam fed (DF) and were exposed to asphyxia and cold stress twice daily to induce disease. At 0, 2, 3, and 4 d after the birth, the microcirculation in the ileum was examined using in vivo microscopic methods. The nutritive microvascular perfusion in the NEC group was progressively compromised from d 3 to d 4 (35% and 50% decrease, respectively) when compared with DF rats. Concomitantly, intestinal blood flow assessed by laser Doppler flowmetry was significantly reduced at d 2, 3, and 4 (by 31%, 36%, and 73%, respectively). Levels of ET-1 mRNA in the ileum were increased 3.7-fold. Microvascular responses to topically applied ET-1 were significantly increased in the NEC group, which was associated with decreased expression of ETB receptor. These results suggest that microcirculatory dysfunction in the distal ileum of neonatal rats with NEC contributes to disease progression and that enhanced microvascular responsiveness to ET-1 may participate in these microcirculatory disturbances.