The influence of endothelin-3 (ET-3) on anterior pituitary hormone secretion was investigated over a wide range of concentrations (from 10(-14) to 10(-6) M) and incubation times (from 4 to 48 hours). ET-3 elicited a concentration-dependent inhibition of prolactin (PRL) secretion and stimulated the release of luteinizing hormone (LH), follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) from primary monolayer cultures of anterior pituitary cells derived from female rats. The responsiveness of different pituitary cells to ET-3 differs markedly in terms of onset and duration: the maximal inhibition of PRL secretion occurred after 12 hours and the stimulation of LH, FSH and TSH reached the maximum after 4, 48 and 48 hours of incubation, respectively. These data corroborate the concept that ET-3 has an important role as a neuroendocrine modulator. Moreover, the data presented suggest different intracellular mechanisms underlying ET-3 actions.