BACKGROUND--Among patients with independent evidence of coronary disease and recent onset unstable angina or non-Q wave myocardial infarction the incidence of subsequent cardiovascular events is high. Markers predictive of adverse cardiac outcome in unstable angina and non-Q wave myocardial infarction need to be defined more accurately. Endothelin-1 is a potent endothelium derived vasoconstrictor peptide that may play a part in the pathophysiology of acute myocardial ischaemia. AIM AND STUDY DESIGN--In a study that specifically identified high risk patients a group of 16 consecutive patients with either unstable angina at rest or non-Q wave myocardial infarction were prospectively investigated to establish whether these conditions are associated with high plasma immunoreactive endothelin and whether endothelin concentration at presentation is related to cardiovascular events within the next 12 weeks. Controls consisted of a group of 40 healthy subjects. RESULTS--Patients had significantly higher mean (SD) plasma endothelin at presentation than did healthy controls (7.4 (1.1) v 5.0 (1.2) pg/ml, P < 0.0001). At nine weeks plasma endothelin was still significantly higher in those patients who had subsequent cardiovascular events, (n = 9, acute myocardial infarction or refractory angina with electrocardiographic changes and revascularisation procedures, 8.5 (2.6) pg/ml, P < 0.005 v controls) whereas its concentration returned to normal in those patients who had a favourable outcome (n = 7, 5.9 (0.7) pg/ml). Compared with those patients who had an uneventful course, patients with subsequent events had significantly higher plasma endothelin, both at presentation and at nine weeks (P < 0.05 on both occasions). IMPLICATIONS--Endothelin may contribute to the pathophysiology of acute coronary syndromes and may relate to subsequent cardiovascular outcome.