BACKGROUND: Altered endothelial cell (EC)-derived mediator levels, including increased endothelin-1 (ET-1), are hallmarks of human pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH). Gene mutations for receptors for bone morphogenic proteins (BMP), or transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta) cause heritable PAH. The effects of BMPs and TGF-beta on ET-1 production by human pulmonary microvascular EC (HMVEC-LBl) are unknown. METHODS: HMVEC-LBl were exposed in-vitro to BMPs 2, 4, and 7 or TGF-beta1 in basal or complete medium. ET production was measured, as well as total cellular protein. Levels of Smad 5 and phosphorylated Smads 1/5 were also measured. RESULTS: BMP-4 did not increase ET-1 while BMP-2 increased it minimally in basal medium. BMP-7 increased ET-1, but only at 100 ng/ml. By contrast, TGF-beta increased ET-1 throughout most of the studied dose range. All BMPs and TGF-beta increased levels of phosphorylated Smads 1/5 without depleting levels of Smad 5. CONCLUSIONS: With the exception of BMP-7 at high-concentrations, the BMPs that interact with BMP receptor 2, the receptor implicated in heritable PAH, do not or minimally modulate in-vitro constitutive ET-1 production by HMVEC-LBl. TGF-beta increases ET-1 synthesis, and this may have clinical relevance in PAH.