Various vasoactive substances are involved in the regulation of the macro- and microcirculation. We have investigated if these regulators change during long-term volume therapy with human albumin (HA) or hydroxyethylstarch solution (HES) in trauma and sepsis patients. To maintain pulmonary capillary wedge pressure (PCWP) at 10-15 mm Hg, either 20% HA (HA-trauma, n = 14; HA-sepsis, n = 14) or 10% low-molecular weight HES solution (HES-trauma, n = 14; HES-sepsis, n = 14) were infused for 5 days, otherwise patient management did not differ between the two groups (trauma/sepsis). Mean arterial pressure (MAP), heart rate (HR), PCWP and cardiac index (CI) were monitored in all patients. Liver function was assessed using the monoethylglycinexylidide (MEGX) test, and gastric intramucosal pH (pHi) was monitored by tonometry to assess splanchnic perfusion. Plasma concentrations of vasopressin, endothelin-1, adrenaline, noradrenaline, atrial natriuretic peptide and 6-keto-prostaglandin F1 alpha were measured from arterial blood samples. All measurements were carried out on the day of admission to the intensive care unit (trauma patients) or on diagnosis of sepsis, and daily over the next 5 days at 12:00. MAP, HR and PCWP did not differ between the corresponding subgroups (trauma/sepsis). Cl increased significantly more in the HES than in the HA groups. pHi and MEGX plasma concentrations did not differ in the trauma patients throughout the study. Both were lower than normal in the sepsis groups and increased more markedly in the HES than in the albumin-treated patients (P < 0.05). In the trauma patients, concentrations of all vasoactive regulators were very similar in both groups. In both sepsis groups, vasopressors (vasopressin, endothelin-1, noradrenaline and adrenaline) were significantly increased above normal at baseline and decreased more markedly in HES than in HA patients. Concentrations of atrial natriuretic peptide increased only in the HA patients (from 159 (SD 31) to 215 (38) pg ml-1 on day 2). Plasma concentrations of 6-keto-prostaglandin F1 alpha decreased significantly only in the HES sepsis patients (from 112 (25) to 47 (15) pg ml-1).