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To evaluate whether the distribution of intracellular free calcium may be impaired in primary hypertension.Cytosolic free calcium and stored calcium were investigated in cultured vascular smooth muscle cells from spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHR).The concentrations of intracellular and stored calcium were investigated in cultured vascular smooth muscle cells from spontaneously hypertensive rats aged 6 months from the Münster strain (SHR) and from age-matched normotensive Wistar-Kyoto (WKY) rats. Vascular smooth muscle cells were grown on coverslips, and fluorescence measurements of the intracellular calcium concentration were performed using fura-2. The different effects of thapsigargin, a selective Ca-ATPase inhibitor, and of angiotensin II (Ang II) on the calcium storage pools were investigated.In the absence of external calcium thapsigargin produced a dose-dependent transient increase in the concentration of intracellular calcium in vascular smooth muscle cells. The thapsigargin-induced maximum peak increase in the concentration of intracellular calcium was not significantly different in SHR and WKY rats. After depletion of the thapsigargin-sensitive calcium pools the addition of 100nmol/l Ang II produced a rise in the concentration of intracellular calcium in vascular smooth muscle cells from SHR and WKY rats. Using vascular smooth muscle cells from the SHR the Ang II-induced increase in the concentration of intracellular calcium was not significantly different in the presence and absence of thapsigargin, indicating that the calcium pools depleted by thapsigargin and Ang II do not overlap significantly in vascular smooth muscle cells from SHR. In contrast, in the WKY rats the response to Ang II was significantly diminished after depletion of the thapsigargin-sensitive pool. When Ang II and thapsigargin were administered in the reverse order, i.e. Ang II before thapsigargin, the thapsigargin response was diminished in the WKY rats but not in the SHR.SHR differ from WKY rats in having vascular smooth muscle cells that contain thapsigargin-sensitive calcium storage pools that are distinct from the Ang II-sensitive calcium pools.