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We compared the distribution of DNA synthesis over the arterial tree of young normotensive Wistar-Kyoto (WKY) rats and spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHR) with marginally elevated blood pressure. Six-week-old male SHR and WKY rats were therefore infused with 5-bromo-2'-deoxyuridine (BrdUrd) for 2 days and the nuclear incorporation of the thymidine analogue in the media of various arteries was determined by immunohistochemistry. In WKY rats, 2.5% of the arterial smooth muscle nuclei in elastic, muscular and resistance arteries incorporated BrdUrd. In SHR, DNA synthesis was more marked in large arteries than in resistance arteries. It was in addition significantly larger in the aorta, superior mesenteric, renal and femoral arteries of the SHR than in those of the WKY rats. However, nuclear incorporation of BrdUrd in vivo did not differ between SHR and WKY rats in aortic endothelium, carotid arterial smooth muscle, nor in mesenteric or renal resistance arteries. Between 6 and 20 weeks of age, the number of nuclear profiles per media cross-section did not increase in large arteries of WKY rats and SHR. During this period of time, however, carotid artery and thoracic aorta weight and DNA content increased. SHR large arteries gained more DNA than those of WKY rats. These data indicate that DNA synthesis is uniformly distributed over the arterial system in young WKY rats and that DNA synthesis is elevated in the smooth muscle of large arteries of 6-week-old SHR but not in their resistance arteries.