PURPOSE. Endothelin (ET)-1 can produce nerve damage analogous to that in optic neuropathies such as glaucoma. The precise source of endothelin in the posterior segment of the eye remains unclear. The present study was conducted to determine whether the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), which helps maintain the outer blood-retinal barrier, is a local source for ET-1 and whether the amount of ET-1 secreted by the RPE is be differentially regulated by cholinergics and the cytokine TNF-α. METHODS. Human retinal pigment epithelial cells (ARPE-19) were cultured either to a mature state (mRPE) for 4 weeks, with well-defined tight junctions, or to a young state (yRPE) for 4 days, with incompletely formed tight junctions. ET-1-like immunoreactivity was determined by immunocytochemistry, and secreted ET-1 was quantified by radioimmunoassay in both cell types. Cells were stimulated with the cholinergic agonist carbachol or with the cytokine TNF-α for specific periods. The expression of muscarinic receptor subtypes M1 and M3 and the peripheral membrane protein ZO-1 were analyzed by immunoblot and immunocytochemistry, respectively. Expression of preproendothelin-1 (ppET-1) mRNA after application of different stimuli at specific time points was determined by real-time RT-PCR. Carbachol-mediated elevation in intracellular calcium ([Ca2+]i) was also measured in the presence or absence of a selective muscarinic receptor antagonist. RESULTS. Constitutive synthesis and secretion of ET-1 was greater in mRPE than in yRPE cells. TNF-α caused a significant increase in ppET-1 mRNA levels and ET-1 secretion in both phenotypes. The disruption and subsequent breakdown of the tight junction barrier was evident in either phenotype after treatments with TNF-α. There was a concentration-dependent increase in [Ca 2+]i in both y- and mRPE cells in response to CCh. CCh at 1 μM significantly increased ET-1 secretion, a response observed in yRPE but not in mRPE cells. This effect may be mediated primarily by the M3 receptor subtype and is phospholipase C (PLC) dependent. CONCLUSIONS. Regulation of ET-1 release in ARPE-19 cells was differentially regulated by TNF-α and CCh and was dependent on the age of the culture. RPE may be a source for ET-1 in the retina, and its increased release may become more important during breakdown of the blood-retinal barrier, as seen after TNF-α treatment.