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To elucidate the role of brain nitric oxide produced by neuronal constitutive nitric oxide synthase in sodium-induced hypertension.Diets containing a high (8% NaCl), a medium (2% NaCl), and a low (0.2% NaCl) sodium content were administered to Wistar rats aged 12 weeks for 10 days or 8 weeks until they were killed. Male Wistar rats administered either deoxycorticosterone acetate, 1% NaCl or both and the respective controls were killed 2 weeks (during prehypertensive stage) or 6 weeks (during hypertensive stage) after the start of treatment. The hypothalamus and lower brainstem were excised for extraction of total RNA. Reverse transcription polymerase chain reactions of constitutive nitric oxide synthase messenger RNA and glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase messenger RNA were performed, and constitutive nitric oxide synthase messenger RNA levels were expressed relative to glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase messenger RNA levels.A high sodium intake for 10 days tended to decrease constitutive nitric oxide synthase messenger RNA levels in the hypothalamus, compared with effect of a low sodium intake. Constitutive nitric oxide synthase messenger RNA levels in the hypothalamus of deoxycorticosterone acetate-salt hypertensive rats were lower than those in the control sham-operated rats. Neither alteration of sodium intake nor administration of deoxycorticosterone with and without sodium affected constitutive nitric oxide synthase gene expression in the lower brainstem.Expression of neuronal constitutive nitric oxide synthase gene is downregulated in the hypothalamus of deoxycorticosterone acetate-salt hypertensive rats. This lower than normal expression of neuronal constitutive nitric oxide synthase gene in the hypothalamus could be an adaptive response to sodium-induced hypertension, and suggests that nitric oxide produced by hypothalamic constitutive nitric oxide synthase plays a role in maintenance of blood pressure in relation to sodium balance in rats.