BACKGROUND: During orthopedic surgery, embolization of bone marrow fat can lead to potentially fatal, intra-operative cardiovascular deterioration. Vasoactive mediators may also be released from the bone marrow and contribute to these changes. Increased plasma levels of endothelin-1 (ET-1) have been observed after pulmonary air and thrombo-embolism. The role of ET-1 in the development of acute cardiovascular deterioration as a result of bone marrow fat embolization during vertebroplasty was therefore investigated. METHODS: Bone cement was injected into three lumbar vertebrae of six sheep in order to force bone marrow fat into the circulation. Invasive blood pressures and heart rate were recorded continuously until 60 min after the last injection. Cardiac output, arterial and mixed venous blood gas parameters and plasma ET-1 concentrations were measured at selected time points. Post-mortem, lung biopsies were taken for analysis of intravascular fat. RESULTS: Cement injections resulted in a sudden (within 1 min) and severe increase in pulmonary arterial pressure (>100%). Plasma concentrations of ET-1 started to increase after the second injection, but no significant changes were observed. Intravascular fat and bone marrow cells were present in all lung lobes. CONCLUSION: Cement injections into vertebral bodies elicited fat embolism resulting in subsequent cardiovascular changes that were characterized by an increase in pulmonary arterial pressure. Cardiovascular complications as a result of bone marrow fat embolism should thus be considered in patients undergoing vertebroplasty. No significant changes in ET-1 plasma values were observed. Thus, ET-1 did not contribute to the acute cardiovascular changes after fat embolism.