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ABSTRACT: The vasoactive peptide bradykinin may be involved in the pathogenesis of vasodilation, which has been considered the initiating event of ascites formation in cirrhotic patients. Since bradykinin is generated through the cleavage of high molecular weight kininogen (HK) by kallikrein, we looked for the cleavage of HK by an immunoblotting technique in plasma and ascitic fluid of 28 patients with cirrhosis of different etiology. The majority of patients showed massive cleavage of HK in ascitic fluid (median 50% of total HK; range 23–100%). Patients with severe ascites had more cleaved HK in plasma (29%; range 8–38%) than normal subjects (22%; range 11–32) (P=0.02). Patients with high levels of plasma renin activity (5–60 ng/ml/hour), which is considered a consequence of peripheral vasodilation, had more plasma cleaved HK (31%; range 18–38) (P=0.0097) than normals. Thus, our data support the view that cleavage of HK could play a role in the pathogenesis of vasodilation and ascites formation in patients with decompensated cirrhosis.