OBJECTIVES: The goal of this study was to determine the long-term effects of estrogen replacement therapy on the response to endothelin-1 (ET-1) in postmenopausal women with coronary heart disease. BACKGROUND: It is thought that the vasoconstrictor ET-1 is involved in the development and progression of atherosclerosis. Estrogen replacement may slow the development of atherosclerosis in postmenopausal women. METHODS: Nineteen of 20 postmenopausal women randomized to either three months of 2 mg oral estradiol or placebo completed the double-blind placebo-controlled protocol. Change in forearm blood flow (FBF) in response to a 60 min brachial arterial infusion of ET-1 (5 pmol/min) was measured before randomization, after one month of randomized therapy and after three months of therapy using venous occlusion plethysmography. RESULTS: Estrogen treatment had no effect on baseline FBF. Systolic and diastolic blood pressure and heart rate did not change in response to estrogen therapy or ET-1. Before randomization, in response to ET-1, FBF was reduced by -21.9% (mean response over 60 min) in the placebo group and -19.0% in the estradiol group (p = 0.67). After one month of therapy, the response was attenuated in the estrogen group, -10.0%, compared with the placebo group, -23.6 (difference in means 13.6%, 95% confidence interval [0.7%, 26.6%], p = 0.041). After three months of therapy, there was no difference in response between the placebo group, -27.0%, and estrogen group, -30.2% (p = 0.65). CONCLUSIONS: In postmenopausal women with coronary heart disease, estrogen therapy inhibits the vasoconstrictor response to ET-1 after one month of therapy. This effect is lost after three months of therapy, suggesting that tachyphylaxis to one potentially beneficial action of estradiol develops during chronic treatment.