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To clarify the effect of dietary sodium restriction on the mechanism regulating sodium and water in the development of hypertension, we determined the number of the α-adrenoceptors in renal basolateral membrane in spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHR) and Wistar-Kyoto (WKY) rats. The rats had been fed a low-sodium (0.5%) or normal-sodium (0.4%) diet from 3 weeks of age. The experiments were performed at 6, 8 and 20 weeks of age in both rat groups. Renal basolateral membranes were prepared using Percoll and radioligand binding studies were performed using 3H-prazosin and 3H-rauwolscine. Systolic blood pressure in SHR was already elevated at 6 weeks of age compared with that in WKY rats and rose to hypertensive levels at 8 weeks of age. The sodium balance in WKY rats on both diets decreased at 8 weeks of age, but that of SHR decreased at 20 weeks of age. The maximum number (Bmax) for the α2-adrenoceptor did not differ in any groups of the WKY rats or SHR. Bmax for the $AL2-adrenoceptors increased at 8 weeks of age in the low-sodium SHR compared with normal-sodium SHR, but did not increase in WKY rats. The data show that the increases in blood pressure in the SHR occur prior to significant increases in the α2-adrenoceptor density of renal basolateral membrane, and that the modulation of α2-adrenoceptor density in SHR differs from that in WKY rats under sodium restriction. The results suggest that renal α2-adrenoceptors in SHR could relate the regulatory mechanism to sodium reabsorption under sodium restriction rather than to the primary cause of the development of hypertension in SHR. There may be the possibility of an abnormality in renal α2-adrenoceptor mechanism in SHR.