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There is controversy about the effects of dietary sodium deprivation on cellular cation transport. Using washed erythrocytes for in vitro22Na and 86Rb uptake studies, we studied the effects of a strict low-salt diet (20 mmol/day) for 4 days in 14 normotensive and 13 hypertensive subjects. Urinary sodium excretion fell from 147 ± 13 to 18 ± 3 mmol/24 h in the normotensive group and from 155 ± 16 to 20 ± 2 mmol/24 h in the hypertensive group. In both groups, there was a fall in plasma sodium concentration and activation of the renin-aldosterone axis. Both systolic and diastolic blood pressures fell in the hypertensive, but not the normotensive group. There were small but significant (P<0.025) decreases in cell cation concentrations and passive cation transport in the normotensive, but not the hypertensive group. No significant change in sodium pump activity or in Na+K+ cotransport was seen in either group. These observations provide no support for the concept that a decrease in dietary sodium intake can induce changes in cell cation transport, detectable in vitro, to which reduction in blood pressure may be attributed.