We studied the relationship between aortic baroreceptor function and aortic wall properties in normotensive (NTR) and spontaneously hypertensive (SHR) rats 10-20 weeks old. Baroreceptor discharge, static pressure-volume (P-V), and pressure-radius relationships were measured in excised aortic segments. Histological studies of wall thickness and receptor numbers also were made. Circumferential wall stress and strain were calculated, as was the incremental elastic modulus (EINC). EINC in NTR's at 100 mm Hg was similar to values reported for in vivo human, dog, and rat aortas. At 10 weeks, SHR's had significantly elevated blood pressure, but SHR and NTR aortas had similar relationships among pressures, volumes, strains, and EINC'S. Differences arose subsequently and, at 20 weeks, NTR aortas had larger volumes, larger strains, and smaller EINC'S at equivalent pressures, whereas SHR aortas were unchanged. Thus the reduced distensibility of SHR relative to NTR aortas, rather than being due to retrogressive changes from normal, appeared to result from a failure to pass through a phase of increased distensibility. At 10 weeks, SHR baroreceptors showed resetting in both pressure-response and strain-response curves, and it was concluded that early hypertensive baroreceptor resetting was due to primary changes in the receptors. At 20 weeks, the order of the strain-response curves for NTR and SHR baroreceptors was reversed due to a reduction in strain sensitivity of NTR baroreceptors. Resetting of NTR baroreceptors during development may have important implications as a mechanism of blood pressure control in development.